Valerie Cagle showed Friday why she is one of 10 finalists for the USA Softball collegiate player of the year award.
Cagle pitched a three-hit shutout and belted a solo homer to lead top-seeded and 13th-ranked Clemson to a 2-0 win over fourth-seeded and 20th-ranked Virginia Tech in an ACC semifinal at the University of Louisville.
"She throws over 70 mph, which is over 100 mph in baseball," Tech coach Pete D'Amour said. "And it's a sinker, so to try to elevate that pitch is really hard to do. She got a lot of groundballs."
Cagle, the ACC player of the year and freshman of the year, outdueled Virginia Tech ace Keely Rochard, who was named the ACC pitcher of the year earlier in the week.
The Hokies (33-13) were shut out for just the second time this season.
Cagle (26-4) struck out seven and walked two.
"She has a really good dropball and a really good riseball and one of them's off-speed, so you've kind of got to go up there looking for her best pitch and then tip your cap if she throws anything else because she just has some really good pitches," said Tech cleanup hitter Jayme Bailey, who struck out twice and had a single.
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"We had hard-hit balls but didn't get it done."
Tech left four runners on base, including two in the first inning.
"She's an All-American-type pitcher. In fact, she's a World Series-type pitcher," D'Amour said. "So you've got to take advantage of opportunities when you get them."
The loss tied two other games for the fewest hits the Hokies have managed in a game this season. Tech entered Friday ranked third in the ACC with a .295 batting average.
"If we swing at strikes and we swing hard, we're going to hit balls hard and we're going to get on base," Bailey said. "But … she has pretty good command of both pitches, so I think a lot of us were swinging at some bad pitches."
Virginia Tech had won two of three games at Clemson in February. Cagle was 1-1 against the Hokies in that series.
Cagle allowed six runs and six hits in two-plus innings in a Feb. 19 loss to Tech. But the Hokies found her tougher to deal with this time.
"Going into the ACC tournament, you've got a little bit more grit. You've got something else to play for," Bailey said. "She brought it a little bit more than in February."
Rochard (25-8) pitched a four-hitter, striking out four and walking five.
"She was average," D'Amour said. "But Clemson can hit.
"She gave us a chance to win. … We've got to get some more runs for her."
Clemson (42-5), which is in just its second season of varsity softball, grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second inning.
Alia Logoleo walked, stole second and advanced to third on a grounder. She scored on Grace Mattimore's RBI squeeze bunt single. Third baseman Cameron Fagan was unable to field the bunt.
D'Amour was not surprised the squeeze bunt worked.
"I can't remember a time where a squeeze, if the ball is down, where the out is [made] at home plate. You never see it," D'Amour said. "It had to be good play by Cam. She maybe rushed it, but it's not on her. Just executed well on their end.
"The runner on third is safe [at home] 99 out of 100 times; I don't care who's playing third. Brooks Robinson could play third."
Cagle smacked a solo homer in the third. It was her 15th homer of the year.
"It was a rise in, off the plate," D'Amour said of the pitch Cagle hit. "Hindsight, maybe you walk her, but it's not the winning run anyway."
Tech had runners on second and third with one out in the first inning. But Cagle struck out Bailey and retired Kelsey Bennett on a grounder to get out of the jam.
"We've just got to work on getting the ball in play, cashing in when we need to," Bailey said.
Tech's Addy Greene singled in the fifth but was thrown out trying to steal second.
Virginia Tech had a runner on second with two outs in the sixth, but Alexa Milius grounded out.
Bailey singled in the seventh, but Bennett hit into a double play. Greene then reached base on an error, but pinch hitter Grace Chavez grounded out to end the game.
The Hokies are still a safe bet to reap an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament Sunday, but Friday's loss probably cost them a shot at hosting an NCAA regional.
Tech was named on April 30 as one of 20 candidates to host one of the 16 regionals. But D'Amour said Tuesday that Tech probably needed to make it to Saturday's ACC final to have a good shot at hosting a regional.
The NCAA pairings will be announced at 9 p.m. Sunday on ESPN2.
"What we really want to win is in the NCAA tournament," Bailey said. "We're going to take this, learn from what we did and just keep moving on. We've just got to do better next time."