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Four teams square off in Cavalier Classic

Mitchell, Bowdren lead Cavs weekend showdowns

The Virginia softball team plays a rare series of home matches this weekend when it hosts the Cavalier Invitational, a tournament featuring Ohio, Colgate and Saint Joseph's.

With an opening schedule consisting primarily of play on the road, the tournament marks the first and last time the Cavaliers (6-2, 0-0 ACC) will play in Charlottesville until March 24.

The Cavaliers performed impressively in their first two tournaments, allowing fewer than two runs per game and scoring more than five on average.

"It was a great way to open the season up," junior catcher Kristen Hawkins said after the East Carolina Pirate Classic, the squad's first tournament held in Greenville, NC.

Virginia's pair of losses came last Friday at the East Carolina Pirate Clash - the squad's second tournament, also held in Greenville, NC - against two teams with high-caliber pitching. Fordham and No. 18 Louisville each defeated Virginia by one run on the strength of their pitchers' arms before the Cavaliers bounced back the next day with a pair of wins by a combined seven runs, including a revenge match victory against Fordham.

"I don't think we played poorly on Friday but [rather] conservatively," coach Eileen Schmidt said. "There was a great response from the players. They knew we didn't need to play so conservatively. We just needed to do the things that fit to our team - strong hitting, stealing bases [and] quick defensive innings... we gained confidence playing with those teams and knowing that we were better."

Much of the past weekend's offensive success comes from the exceptional performance of sophomore third baseman Marcy Bowdren. Bowdren finished the weekend with six hits, five RBIs and three home runs, shooting her into first place on the team in RBIs and slugging percentage. She is also tied for first on the team in number of home runs.

"Marcy has been hitting really well," Schmidt said. "Obviously the pitching this past week was really good ... Marcy hit extremely well. She couldn't seem to find a hole or a gap the week before but found it this week. She's been working hard and it's nice to see that it's paying off."

As strong as Virginia has been at the plate, pitching may be the real strength of the team. The Cavaliers has won every game where they have scored more than one run as both losses this season were by identical 2-1 scores. Junior pitcher Melanie Mitchell boasts a 0.98 ERA and has 39 strikeouts in five appearances. Last season, Mitchell often pitched several games in a row without rest but this year is complemented by freshman pitcher Rachel Gillen, who is 2-1 on the season with a 2.62 ERA in four starts.

"With us having two of the top pitchers in the ACC, as a batter and a team we feel really prepared," sophomore second baseman Erica Cipolloni said. "I don't think any pitcher is better than the pitchers we have. Seeing them practice in [batting practice] all the time makes me pretty confident."

The Cavaliers face three very different teams this weekend. Ohio (4-4) excels at the plate, having banged out 37 runs in its first three games alone. The Bobcats' pitching, however, is suspect. They have given up more than three runs a game, which may favor Virginia.

"Ohio has kicked up its schedule and is facing tougher competition," Schmidt said. "They've also been swinging really well as far as I can tell."

Saint Joseph's (3-1), on the other hand, has not been running up scores like Ohio but has only allowed three runs this season and has two shutouts under their belts.

Colgate has yet to start their season, so the Cavaliers can look forward to learning about the Raiders' gameplay this weekend.

Virginia opens the weekend tonight with a doubleheader against Ohio at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.. Tomorrow, the Cavaliers face Colgate at 10 a.m., followed by Saint Joseph's at 12:30 p.m. They wrap up the tournament Sunday with a final game against Saint Joseph's at 3 p.m. All five games will be played at The Park.