The Hokies are led by Jr. pitcher and ACC pitcher of the year Keely Rochard.
Rochard is a poised veteran who is always in control; she's cool, calm and collected. I've never seen her rattled, and its her coolness that sets the tone for a very business like Hokies softball team. She led the conference with 326 strikeouts, good for 10 per game (also tops in the conference) and was third in the ACC with an ERA of 1.24. She really is a dominant force in the circle no doubt.
UCLA will see Rochard try to work the edges of the zone early and try to finish with a multi-level rise ball that power hitters especially cannot seem to lay off of. Rochard also has, when her stuff is on, a sweet little off speed pitch that slows down considerably (in the low to mid 50's) that drops to the inside of RH batters. I look for her to have success against this Bruins team.
Behind Rochard is a very solid defensive unit on the infield with tons of speed in the outfield. Star freshman Cameron Fagan has been back from injury for a few weeks and seems to be getting her legs under her defensively.
She and Kelsey Bennett really do a tremendous job locking down that side of the infield
which pairs well with the Hokies superb first basemen from Scott Depot WVa.,Jayme Bailey
As mentioned a moment ago, there is a ton of speed in the outfield with each player having a capable arm meaning that extra bases are difficult to come by against this Hokies team. To be sure, Rochard appreciates the work of the defense as much as the defense appreciates the work of Rochard.
What the Hokies will see when they are on defense is a bit of a mystery to me. I don't know a ton about this UCLA team, but the stats do tell us a little. UCLA is 3rd or 4th in the Pac 12 in just about every offensive category with the exception of two. They lead the conference in OPB at .419, but they also lead the conference in strikeouts. When the Bruins do get on base they appear to be aggressive (64 stolen bases on the season. Good for 2nd in the Pac12), and appear to be good at getting those runs across the plate (4th in the Pac 12 in runs scored). Both Rochard and the Hokies defense will need to be extra sharp in this series to minimize damage that the Bruins appear to do once on base.
On offense there isn't anyone hotter in the country right now than sophomore Kelsey Bennett. In her three games in the Tempe Regional she went 9/10 with 4 RBIs and 3 HRs. This all coming off a great finish to the regular season. Her performance likely overshadowed a dizzying array of fireworks from the Lady Hokies bats throughout the three games in Tempe. 6 different players throughout the entire lineup, including DH Grace Chavez hit HRs.
But this team isn't just about power. Sophomore speedster and JMU transfer Kelsey Brown sets the tone with her expertise a the plate and on the base paths. The Hokies look to get on base and move those runners around in aggressive fashion never relenting at putting pressure on both the pitcher and the defense. There really isn't a glaring weak spot anywhere in the lineup. When the bats are hot this is a really fun team to watch!
However, if there is a weakness that can be exploited with this young Hokies squad it is the inconsistencies at the plate when facing good pitching. In the only series the Hokies lost all season (one where they were swept), Notre Dame executed from the circle perfectly. Working the outside of the plate, a pitch the Hokies have struggle with throughout the season, and absolutely buckling them with the changeup - all series long.
The Hokies will face the best pitching staff in the Pac 12, and likely the best one in the country this weekend. I expect Coach D'Amour to have his players approaching the plate with an aggressive mentality and attacking pitches they feel they can hit and doing everything he can to move those runners around into scoring position. Coach D'Amour and his team are very good at manufacturing runs no matter the circumstances with only a few exceptions throughout the season.
I expect a low scoring series with the edge going towards UCLA as their strength, pitching, tends to be our kryptonite from time to time. I don't expect the Hokies to roll over though. As I mentioned earlier, this team is very business like and are as competitive as they come. Win or lose this will be an amazing building block for this young team.