Syracuse Orange softball is heating up at the right time.
Following a three-game sweep of Virginia last weekend, SU clinched its eighth ACC Tournament berth in nine seasons since moving from the Big East.
For the majority of the year, reaching the conference tournament seemed far-fetched. The Orange began ACC play 1-9-1 and were outscored by 50 runs in those games. However, six of those contests came against Clemson and Florida State, who rank within the top eight nationally.
Syracuse took advantage of a much lighter schedule down the stretch, partly thanks to two-way star Madison Knight. The freshman fired the 11th no-hitter in program history and added two hits at the dish against NC State on April 8. Knight is second on the team with 25 RBIs and leads the Orange in wins (13), ERA (3.00) and strikeouts (113).
In addition to Knight, Madelyn Lopez has thrived in the leadoff role. The outfielder began the season on the bench but is sporting a team-leading .317 average over 36 games. Kelly Breen has solidified herself as the clean-up hitter, blasting seven home runs with a .480 slugging percentage in her second season.
Non-conference competition also became a breeze for SU. After sweeping three games against Lafayette in which the Orange scored a combined 33 runs, pitcher Lindsey Hendrix tossed the team’s second no-hitter against Cornell the following week.
With five straight wins under its belt, Syracuse faced Virginia in a crucial three-game series. A rainout on Friday allowed for a doubleheader on Saturday. Knight tossed 10 shutout innings across the two games, limiting the Cavaliers to just five hits in the two wins. She also hit her third homer of the year in game two, finishing with two RBIs.
The Orange completed the sweep the following day with a 12-6 win. Catcher Laila Alves launched a grand slam after a 16-pitch at-bat in the first inning to put Syracuse up 4-0. Second baseman Kelly Breen also went yard twice, finishing with three hits and five RBIs. Despite pitching in both games the day prior, Knight entered in relief with her team up by one. The freshman twirled an additional five and two-thirds innings of two-run ball, earning her second win in as many days.
Having won eight straight, the Orange round out regular season play with a three-game series against Boston College at home this weekend. Currently the eighth seed in the ACC, SU is locked into the tournament no matter what happens against the Eagles. It could fall as low as the 10-seed, depending on what NC State does against Pittsburgh.
An extremely young group with seven of its nine batters, either freshmen or sophomores, just making the conference tournament is an accomplishment. Syracuse will most likely rematch UVA in the first round, with top-seeded FSU awaiting the winner.
After the first ACC postseason win in program history last season, this is another step in the right direction for head coach Shannon Doepking’s squad. And who knows, this hot streak could be the start of a magical playoff run.