With less than two weeks left in the regular season, the Virginia softball team hits the road to try to pick up some ACC victories this weekend against Virginia Tech. The Cavaliers (20-21, 5-10 ACC) have lost 10 of their last 12 conference matchups, though seven of those losses were by two or fewer runs.
"Taking the series is extremely important, especially because we want to go to the NCAAs," junior shortstop Alex Skinkis said. "It's going to be really important to just get back on the horse and take it into the ACC championships ... It's nice to have that added motivation to beat Tech just because they're right down the road."
The Cavaliers have taken the series from the Hokies (32-15, 9-5 ACC) each of the last two years. Last season's victory against the Hokies was Virginia's only 2011 ACC series triumph. Then-sophomore pitcher Melanie Mitchell earned both Cavalier wins in last year's bout. But then-sophomore outfielder Taylor Williams' series-winning hit in game three - with two outs in the seventh inning - stole the show. Both Mitchell and Williams will need to ignite tomorrow to upset a Tech team with an RPI of 30th in the country.
"I want to see a little more fight this weekend," coach Eileen Schmidt said. "We need to focus less on what we're not doing and more what we are doing. Obviously we're right there, now it's just making that turn and getting over the hump."
The Cavaliers, although fairly strong on the mound, will need to improve at the plate. Mitchell, who usually starts two of the three games in a series, boasts a top-three ERA and strikeout count in the conference but has just 14 wins on the season, well behind the win totals of the conference leaders.
The Cavaliers have four batters hitting above .250, but the team has an ACC-worst .348 on-base percentage.
"We definitely want to be more aggressive early in the count," Skinkis said. "Tech is a good team and they've had success lately, so attacking them early and getting them off their game will help us win."
Virginia was set to match up with in-state opponent George Mason Wednesday, but the doubleheader was moved to May 1 because of rain. The rescheduling may work in the Cavaliers' favor, as all five of their conference wins have come on weekends without preceding midweek games.
The Hokies come in to the weekend sporting an ERA, batting average and fielding percentage which all rank above Virginia's. On the offensive side, junior first baseman Courtney Liddle leads the Hokies with a .301 batting average and six home runs. Her .479 on-base percentage is good for second-best in the conference.
The Hokies also rank fifth in stolen bases this season after leading the ACC in the category in 2011.
"Tech is pretty young, but they're definitely on the winning side of things," Schmidt said. "They're a pretty good mixture of power and speed. It looked like they were hitting a lot for power recently, so they're not running quite like they used to, but you know they have the ability to."
Junior pitcher Jasmin Harrell leads the Hokies on the mound. She ranks second in the conference with 21 wins, and her 1.99 ERA and 151 strikeouts both place sixth. Virginia has struggled when facing top-notch ACC pitchers this season, including North Carolina ace Lori Spingola, Florida State's duo of Lacey Waldrop and Monica Perry and Maryland star Kendra Knight. When facing a starting pitcher who ranks in the top five in ERA in the conference this season, the Cavaliers have been outscored 25-7.
"Harrell isn't that much different from what we saw in Monica Perry," Schmidt said. "They both have a curve ball in and out and then the occasional screw. We're definitely prepared for her; it's just a question of whether or not we can stick to game plan and take the fight to her."
The teams pair up for a doubleheader tomorrow beginning at noon, followed by one game Sunday to close out the series.