The Virginia softball team hosts George Washington in a midweek matchup Wednesday evening, hoping to push its winning percentage back up to .500 on the year. The game was originally scheduled for Feb. 9, but was postponed due to freezing temperatures.
For the Cavaliers (11-12, 1-2 ACC), the game marks the fourth consecutive opponent they will play at home. The team opened up its home and ACC schedule with a three-game series against Georgia Tech March 9 and 10. After the Yellow Jackets took the first two games 7-3 and 5-2, respectively, Virginia bounced back to take the final game, 4-2. Senior pitcher Melanie Mitchell highlighted the series, moving into first on the all-time list for career strikeouts and breaking the old record of 932 set by Michelle Collins in 1995. She has since extended her record and currently stands at 959 strikeouts.
“You see the four years of work you’ve put in finally pay off, and it’s a really good feeling,” Mitchell said. “I knew I’d get to throw a lot of innings when I came here, but to get the strikeout record is — I don’t consider myself a strikeout pitcher, so to have the strikeout record is pretty exciting.”
Up next for the Cavaliers was a doubleheader against James Madison. Virginia dropped the first game, 3-2, and the second game, 10-2 in six innings. Junior third baseman Marcy Bowdren and senior shortstop Alex Skinkis each tallied three hits between the two games, while junior designated player Karli Johnson and senior outfielder Taylor Williams each batted in two runners.
In the most recent series, Virginia swept a doubleheader against Longwood. Mitchell tied the Virginia record for career complete games at 102 in the first game en route to a 5-3 win, and pitched six innings of relief in the second game, an 8-7 victory in nine innings, to pick up her second win of the day. Trailing 3-0 in the first game, the Cavaliers hammered in five runs in the bottom of the sixth to secure the win. A few hours later, the team found themselves behind again 7-5 in the ninth inning when Johnson hit an RBI single. Senior catcher Kristen Hawkins then stepped up to the plate and knocked in a two-run walk-off double to win the game.
“It was pretty exciting, and I just felt really happy that the team was able to [get the win], “ Hawkins said. “It was a team effort. Everyone got on before me, so I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Although the Cavaliers are no longer traveling across the country every weekend, they still haven’t found the measure of consistency they’d like to have. At certain times, like the third game against Georgia Tech and late in both games against Longwood, Virginia looks like an ACC title contender. Other times, like in the second game against James Madison, the team struggles to perform up to its potential.
The unseasonably cold and wet weather certainly hasn’t helped. The coaches and players had hoped returning home would let them get into a more regular practice schedule, but the frequent rain, snow and freezing temperatures have forced them indoors most days. A three-game series against Seton Hall was also canceled because of the weather. But the team hopes it will be able to come together in the match against the Colonials.
“We had some really great moments offensively, defensively and pitching-wise, and then we had some lapses,” coach Eileen Schmidt said. “Our job now is … finding a consistent approach to our game … It’s making sure we have the energy and have the approach that we need, and we’re executing what we need to do.”
The Colonials (11-11, 0-0 A-10) enter Charlottesville on a hot streak, winners of six in a row and eight of their last nine. The recent win streak represents a complete turnaround from the beginning of the team’s season, during which it came out on top in only three of its first 13 contests.
Like Virginia, George Washington focuses on manufacturing runs, ranking in the top three in the Atlantic 10 in both sacrifice bunts and stolen bases. With both teams playing such similar styles, Wednesday’s matchup should prove interesting.
“They are athletic, they do like to run and they do like to push the pace,” Schmidt said. “We haven’t played a lot of single games this year, so it’ll be like a Sunday for us: you warm up longer than you actually play the game. We need to make sure that we don’t come out slow, we come out firing right from the start, carry the middle innings, finish strong and make sure we don’t have any lapses.”
After the midweek bout, the Cavaliers will travel to College Park, Md. March 23 and 24 to take on Maryland in their second ACC series of the season.