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Geana Torres spun her bat in her hands and stepped into the batter’s box. Down 5-0 against No. 20 Virginia Tech in the bottom of the fifth on Friday, she needed to spark an SU comeback.
Keely Rochard had just tied the NCAA’s season strikeout leader with her 261st strikeout against Toni Martin. Torres wanted to break up the eventual no-hitter, the first time the team had been no-hit in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Instead, she watched as strike three went by her, and she walked back to the bench frustrated.
The Orange were Rochard’s second team this season held to no hits — the first being Georgia Tech on April 18 — and they were outscored 30-2 over four losses to the Hokies. Now, after an upcoming four-game series with No. 13 Clemson, the Orange will look to secure the program’s first ACC Tournament win since joining the conference in 2013. In seven years and five tournaments, the Orange have never entered their postseason tournament higher than a No. 6 seed.
In 2012, Syracuse entered the Big East Tournament as a No. 3 seed, with a 17-5 record in conference play, but still lost 2-1 to St. John’s in the first round. The last time SU managed a victory in a conference tournament was in 2011 — its second straight Big East title.
“If we go into the ACC Tournament looking like we did today, we’re not going to win a game,” head coach Shannon Doepking said after Syracuse had five errors and allowed nine hits in a 8-0 loss to Virginia Tech on Friday.
SU lost to Louisville and NC State in 2018 and 2019, respectively, by one run each. This season’s ace, Alexa Romero, pitched in both games. Against the Cardinals, Syracuse entered 11 games above .500 and on a three-game winning streak. Then-head coach Mike Bosch started senior AnnaMarie Gatti against No. 8 seed Louisville.
After three innings, SU hadn’t recorded a hit, but Gatti — who entered the afternoon with a 12-6 record — was tagged with two runs. Despite averaging nearly four strikeouts per appearance, she only struck out two. Bosch turned to Romero, who only allowed one walk in the 10 batters she faced.
Despite Romero’s efforts, SU managed just two hits and one home run. The Orange left Atlanta early with another first-round exit. Bosch accepted an assistant coaching position at Florida following the season, and Syracuse brought in Doepking, a former Tennessee catcher who played in three consecutive Women’s College World Series appearances. The hiring came after her second Ivy League championship berth, but in her first year with SU, the same struggles in postseason play plagued Syracuse.
This year, those struggles have continued against top-ranked teams. The Orange went 10-5 against teams below them in the conference standings but is 0-12 against ranked opponents. SU has all-but secured a top-10 finish in the standings, barring a scenario involving Clemson sweeping Syracuse, Pitt sweeping No. 6 FSU and North Carolina winning three games against Louisville.
The most likely scenario is a first-round matchup for Syracuse against either Georgia Tech, which they didn’t play, or Pittsburgh, which they swept in March. After SU’s doubleheader sweep of Buffalo on April 6, Doepking said that Syracuse wasn’t ready to get into ACC play and wasn’t ready for its 20 remaining conference opponents. Since then, the team has gone 5-11, picking up a sixth win against nonconference opponent UAlbany on April 27.
“If we can’t establish a strike zone, if we swing at pitches outside the strike zone, it’s going to be a terrible weekend,” Doepking said on April 6. “No, I don’t think we’ve arrived yet.”
If the Orange play Pitt on May 12 in the first round, Syracuse would enter the matchup 8-2 against the Panthers in the last five seasons.
Cami Compson leads the Panthers with a .325 batting average and is second on the team in RBIs (27) and home runs (10). Against Syracuse, she went 4-for-12 and recorded a home run in the last game of the series. The Panthers have 41 home runs on the season — 16 fewer than ACC-leading Clemson.
Syracuse has allowed 41 home runs, something Doepking has chalked up to miscommunication and lack of experience between midseason catcher transfers Torres and Maxine Barnes.
On the second home run Romero allowed to Virginia Tech, Romero and Torres wanted the ball on opposite ends of the plate, Doepking said on Friday. Instead, it ended up over the middle and over the fence.
“If you don’t get the ball inside, it goes over the fence,” Doepking said.
If Pitt sputters out this weekend against FSU, SU would most likely face Georgia Tech in the first round. All four of the games against the Yellow Jackets were postponed, and SU lost its three matchups against GT in 2019, falling to a mercy rule in the final game.
Syracuse can win its game against GT if it stifles the bats of Tricia Awald and Emma Kauf, who lead the team in batting average. SU could benefit from GT’s combined 4.75 ERA, which is more than one run above Syracuse’s average.
“I think the ACC Tournament is going to be a dog fight of being as disciplined as we can be and doing the little things well,” Doepking said. “Hopefully we can continue to grow and learn and put ourselves in a position to where, once we get to the ACC Tournament, we’re playing some clean softball and giving ourselves a chance.”
The post SU has never won an ACC Tournament game. Will that streak end? appeared first on The Daily Orange.