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Cavs skirmish with Seminoles with ACC lead up for grabs

Slumping offense hopes to step up against conference's top pitching staff

The Virginia softball team takes the field in Charlottesville for the second time this year as the Cavaliers host a three-game series against ACC powerhouse No. 23 Florida State tomorrow and Sunday.

The Cavaliers (16-9, 3-0 ACC) opened up conference play two weeks ago with a three-game sweep of defending ACC regular season champion Georgia Tech. Virginia currently sits atop the conference standings along with the Seminoles (26-5, 3-0 ACC), the defending ACC Tournament champions.

"I like getting after [Georgia Tech and Florida State] early," Virginia coach Eileen Schmidt said. "We're ahead of the conference with what we did against Georgia Tech so we have a little bit of wiggle room, but you don't go into the weekend saying it's a letdown [facing this type of competition]. We just get an opportunity to play our best game against the best opponents."

Virginia comes off a disappointing trip to California where the squad dropped all four of its games and scored a total of only six runs, the fewest in a four-game stretch this season. The Cavaliers batted a cumulative .188 during the West Coast swing and were shut out for the first time all year by Fresno State before getting blanked again the following day by Iowa. Despite the poor performance at the plate last week, Virginia still ranks fifth in the ACC in batting average at .261 and hopes to break out of the slump against the Seminoles this weekend.

"We're just going to come out and attack the ball a lot harder and be even more focused than last week," junior catcher Kristen Hawkins said. "We had an off weekend, but I think we're determined to go take on FSU. We're just going to swing out of our shoes and show them what we have."

On the mound, Cavalier pitchers put together strong performances last weekend despite some missteps. Junior pitcher Melanie Mitchell performed exceptionally well in her first two starts, tossing 17 strikeouts and allowing just three runs during the two losses. In her third start of the road trip and second of the day Friday, however, she gave up six runs to No. 7 Oklahoma in about two innings. Senior pitcher Stephanie Coates, who came on in relief, allowed just two earned runs in more than four innings pitched, racking up three strikeouts on the way.

Mitchell and Coats, along with freshman pitcher Rachel Gillen, comprise one of the ACC's most talented pitching units. The Cavaliers rank third in the conference in ERA, and Virginia has walked fewer batters than any other ACC team.

"We've had a great start for the year on the mound," Gillen said. "Mel is throwing awesome as she usually does, and Coats has been killing it. She just goes in and confuses people. Her off-speed and her spin are just so good. We're all such different pitchers, but any of us who go in will be successful."

Florida State comes into the series having won nine of its last 11 games