'No easy way' to beat Warhill pitcher Rochard in 2016

Contact Reporterkholtzman@vagazette.com

There was a stretch early in the Williamsburg Starz Gold softball travel team's summer when coach Tom Bunn, who also coaches Warhill, had the travel squad fine-tuning its small-ball approach.

The bunts and sacrifices gave Starz Gold pitcher Jordan Dail flashbacks to the end of high school season when she was out-dueled by summer teammate and Warhill ace Keely Rochard in the 3A championship game last month. Offense wasn't the Lions' forte in the title run. They won both semifinal games 2-0, including the title bout over Dail and Brookville, which had won two straight titles.

Manufacturing runs was the name of the game for Warhill.

"Yeah, that's how you guys always win," Dail quipped to Bunn and Rochard.

Rochard replied, "Well, doesn't matter because we won."

Some lighthearted jabbing was to be expected between the Class of 2017 hurlers, both bound for Virginia Tech.

And Rochard, the 2016 Virginia Gazette Softball Player of the Year, had a point. No one said the Lions had to be an offensive juggernaut. Instead, they rode their dominant right-hander to a title, playing stellar defense behind her along the way.

Rochard tossed shutouts in all seven postseason games and finished the season with a 25-1 record with 304 strikeouts.

For Bunn, the 3A softball player of the year's efficiency was the most impressive feat. She averaged about 12 strikeouts to only one walk per game.

"There was no easy way to beat her," Bunn said. "She did not help you."

Opponents beware, Rochard could prove even more difficult to beat next season if she masters a dropball pitch, which would complement an arsenal already featuring a dominant fastball, changeup, curveball, and riseball.

"And not lose the effectiveness of the riseball while she does it, that would be a huge benefit for her," Bunn said. "But sometimes it's tough, because the stride is different, the grip is different. There aren't many pitchers that can throw both of those pitches well."

She'll try to hone it against top-tier talent this summer.

Now with her club team, Bunn wants her improving on getting entire star-studded lineups out. For perspective, Rochard said 16 of the 20 Starz Gold players have committed to play in college. That is the sort of skill the squad faces week in and week out, like it will in the upcoming Amateur Softball Association Junior Olympic Cup in Atlanta, a prestigious 32-team national event.

Dropball or not, Rochard is likely to come back even stronger for Warhill next spring. And when she returns, it will be treated like a new season and she won't worry about repeating as Dail and Brookville did in 2014 and '15.

"I think it always helps when you start completely new," Rochard said, "and don't think about the past accolades. It's a new year, a new team, a new competition."

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.

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