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Softball aims to conquer Mountaineers

The Virginia softball team will look to continue a string of recent successes when it plays a pair of games against Mount St. Mary's at The Park today. The Cavaliers (22-34, 3-3 ACC) have won four of their last five games and are now looking to carry on their winning ways going into this weekend's ACC Tournament in Tallahassee.

Mount St. Mary's, however, may not be an easy team to defeat. Having won six of their last seven games, the Mountaineers (15-23) come into Charlottesville on a roll. Yet these games all were in their hometown of Emmitsburg, Md. - the Mountaineers own a paltry 4-13 record when wearing road colors.

The Cavaliers hope to continue the strong play they exhibited Saturday, when they played Maryland in a doubleheader at College Park. They lost the first game 5-3 in a 12th-inning heartbreaker, then came back to claim a 2-0 victory in the nightcap.

"We're playing the best ball we've played all year," Virginia coach Cheryl Sprangel said. "We really outplayed Maryland and showed a lot of character to come back the second game."

Stacey Zagol likely will start the 3 p.m. game today, while Chrissy Quinn is scheduled for the five o'clock matchup. Quinn (8-11) is coming off two strong wins: an eight-strikeout performance in the victory against Maryland and a dominating 5-0 shutout of Campbell in which she allowed only three hits.

Zagol (9-11) pitched a complete game to lead the Cavs to a 4-2 victory against Georgia Tech April 15. Zagol, who like Quinn is a senior righthander, leads the team in victories.

A significant factor in the Cavaliers' recent success has been their general lack of injuries.

"We're probably the healthiest we've been all season," Sprangel said. "This has made a difference in being able to settle into a steady rotation and lineup."

Mount St. Mary's is confident about the matchup with a maj or conference team. This will be the Mountaineers' only series of the season against an ACC opponent and their first trip to Charlottesville in program history.

"It's a big challenge, but the Northeast Conference is pretty competitive," Mountaineer coach Tricia Fiut said. "Last year we peaked at the same time. We have a good young team, and our players have a lot of heart."

Scheduled to start for the Mountaineers today are righthanders Jen Babish and Jessica Miller. Babish (1-5), a freshman, won her first game of the season in a 5-4 decision against George Mason April 12. Miller (8-8), a junior, leads the team in wins and ERA and has won her last four decisions.

Fiut, a 1995 graduate of UConn, has a lot of experience with major conference softball. In four years playing for the Huskies, she helped her team win three Big East Championships and was part of the team that went all the way to the Women's College World Series in 1993.

Yet her Mountaineers, two-thirds of whom are either freshmen or sophomores, are not experienced in playing teams from tough conferences such as the ACC. Sprangel thinks this weakness should place the outcome solidly in the hands of the orange and blue.

"Mount St. Mary's isn't very strong," Sprangel said. "They're a team that doesn't play as hard of a schedule. We'll just worry about ourselves, play our own game. We should win if we can take care of ourselves"

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