After two weeks on the road, the Virginia softball team takes the field at home again in a three-game series against No. 23 North Carolina which begins tonight.
Virginia (19-14, 5-4 ACC) hope to avoid a repeat of its last homestand, which resulted in a sweep by ACC leader Florida State. The Cavaliers faltered at the plate as the Seminoles outscored them 10-1. In the past two series, however, the Cavaliers got their bats back on track. Their team batting average of .271 in the past five games is a marked improvement from the .091 they hit against the Seminoles.
"We're getting a little better offensively," coach Eileen Schmidt said. "FSU did a great job. They have one of the toughest pitchers in the conference in Monica Perry, but we made some good adjustments against them and then later on against BC [Boston College] and Longwood."
Several players have stepped up recently to jump-start the Cavaliers at the plate. Junior shortstop Alex Skinkis went 3-for-4 with three RBIs in a 5-1 victory against Boston College Sunday. Skinkis followed that performance Tuesday by knocking in both of the Cavaliers' runs in their 2-0 win against Longwood. Skinkis is batting .308 for the year, second-best on the team behind senior first baseman Alexa Martinez.
Sophomore first baseman Stephanie Harris came through with two homers during the Boston College series to drive in four runs. Junior catcher Kristen Hawkins also contributed a game-winning home run in the first of the matchups.
Sophomore second baseman Erica Cipolloni has been out of the lineup the past five games after suffering a leg injury against Florida State. Her replacement, senior Kennedy Byxbee, has not disappointed. Cipolloni played a major role offensively with her team-leading five home runs and 20 runs scored, but Byxbee has come through with four hits in her five starts, including one home run.
"Our offense is definitely picking it up," junior pitcher Melanie Mitchell said. "We're getting a lot of timely hits. Our defense has been pretty strong all year, but now we're starting to match it with our offense."
Mitchell has been a gem for the Cavaliers all season in the circle and has been nearly flawless during the course of her last three starts. Mitchell accumulated 31 strikeouts while only walking one batter and giving up one earned run during that time span. She currently ranks third in the ACC in ERA, second in strikeouts and first in walks allowed.
"Pitch location has been much more consistent for me," Mitchell said. "I'm also getting ahead of batters and not really walking anyone."
North Carolina (24-10, 3-3 ACC) is coming off a series against Florida State in which the Tar Heels dealt the Seminoles their first conference loss of the season. The Tar Heels are a balanced team, ranking third in the ACC in ERA, batting average and fielding percentage. Senior outfielder Kelli Wheeler and sophomore third baseman Logan Foulks rank among the ACC's top three in slugging percentage - a category in which North Carolina leads the conference.
"This series will definitely be interesting," Schmidt said. "Offensively, UNC looks a lot stronger than they have in the past so we're going to have to bring our 'A'-game into this weekend."
In the circle, sophomore pitcher Lori Spingola has anchored the Tar Heels. Spingola leads the ACC with 188 strikeouts