The Virginia softball team returns to action this weekend with a three-game series at home against NC State as it looks to bounce back from a sweep at the hands of ACC leader Florida State.
With little more than a week left in the regular season, the Cavaliers (18-22, 3-12 ACC) would like to pick up some momentum and improve their record heading into the ACC Tournament. The series opens with a doubleheader Saturday starting at noon and continues with another game at noon Sunday.
Last weekend in Tallahassee, Virginia dropped all three games to the Seminoles by the scores 3-2, 10-2 and 2-0. Though the team failed to tally a single win, there were a number of positives to gain from the series. The Cavaliers matched up well against one of the strongest teams in the conference in the first and third games, and in the series opener, the squad refused to cower before one of the strongest pitching rotations in the nation, tallying eight hits in eight innings.
“I’ve never really been intimidated by ‘renowned’ pitching or whatever,” freshman outfielder Shannon McGinley said. “I see it as a huge challenge, and I really like challenges because I’m really competitive.”
Despite the temptation to be content with a respectable performance against a great team, Virginia is refusing to settle.
“I would say we played solidly, but obviously we fell short in some clutch situations,” senior outfielder Taylor Williams said. “I was very impressed with the way that we competed. We took them deep in the games, and every time they came at us, we came right back at them.”
Now the Cavaliers turn their attention to the Wolfpack (23-18, 7-7 ACC). NC State is currently in its first season under new coach Shawn Rychcik, who led Boston to the NCAA Regionals in each of his last three seasons and four times total during his eight years at the helm. After a rough stretch in mid-March, the team is hitting its stride, winning nine of its last 11 games and securing a series win at North Carolina last weekend.
Sophomore pitcher Emily Weiman has excelled for the Wolfpack on the mound. She has a 2.11 ERA, which trails only those of Florida State’s Lacey Waldrop and Monica Perry among ACC pitchers, tossed a no-hitter on April 4 against UNC-Charlotte and has received ACC Player of the Week honors three times this season. Like Waldrop, she possesses a large repertoire of off-speed pitches that the Cavaliers must contend with in order to find success.
“What we need to make sure we do this week is prepping to keep ourselves back a little more, picking up that offspeed a little sooner than on top of us obviously,” coach Eileen Schmidt said. “That will also help us score runs and get people on, the more you can put the ball in play. We did see on Sunday in that first game when we got people on, we were able to run and move runners. We need to just stick to that.”
Currently in a tie for fifth place in the conference out of eight teams, the Wolfpack have the second best slugging percentage in the ACC despite sporting the second worst on-base percentage, signaling a team that swings hard every time at the plate. This is further evidenced by their conference-best 57 home runs, compared to a conference-worst 19 for the Cavaliers. The formidable combination of power hitting and great pitching poses a daunting test for Virginia, but the players believe that consistent hitting and steadfast defense could key the squad to a critical series victory.
“We’ll see that we know exactly what we need to do and we have everything we need to win,” Williams said. “If we trust that and move forward with that confidently, I think we’re in great shape this weekend.”