With one week remaining in the regular season, Virginia softball comes crawling to the finish line looking for a more positive end to a disappointing season. The Cavaliers wrap up their home schedule with a Tuesday doubleheader against James Madison and a Wednesday series against Liberty.
The Cavaliers (6-38, 1-22 ACC) were never able to gather any momentum in coach Blake Miller’s inaugural season at the helm. Only once did the team win consecutive games, and it has thrice been on losing streaks of five games or more.
Virginia’s burden will not lighten Tuesday. The Dukes (33-13, 9-3 CAA) reign supreme over the state of Virginia and are 24th in RPI. However, Miller believes his bats have what it takes to down James Madison.
“We face a very tough JMU team on Tuesday,” Miller said. “If we are aggressive then we’ll be fine. That’s the big thing, continuing our aggressive mentality.”
Sophomore Jailyn Ford will aim to pacify the Cavalier hitters. The Hot Springs, Va. phenomenon has befuddled collegiate bats since day one — setting program records in wins, strikeouts, innings and shutouts as a freshman.
Ford has shown no signs of relenting into her second year. Her record currently stands at 17-6 and her miniscule 1.41 earned run average is 28th-best in the country. Additionally, Ford owns 172 strikeouts this season.
In the last week’s series against Notre Dame, Virginia faced an equally difficult pitcher — senior Laura Winter. In the first game, the Cavaliers failed to put a single runner on base, but managed to tag Winter for five runs in the series finale — showing they can get to elite hurlers.
“The bats really came alive at the end,” senior second baseman Marcy Bowdren said. “That shows progress. Although we didn’t put a victory on the board we never gave up.”
Saturday’s 15-8 loss to the Fighting Irish in many ways encapsulates the Cavaliers’ entire season — flashes of brilliance overshadowed by defeat. For every walk-off win against No. 9 Florida State, there are two midweek home blowouts by George Mason.
But Virginia does own talent, and the promise of next season with matured sophomores and Miller’s first recruiting class brings hope to a beleaguered program. But that is the future. At present, late season wins — though meaningless in the standings — could go a long way toward building a confident 2015 team.
“At this point, it is about progress and learning,” Bowdren said. “It’s been a tough season, but we keep plugging away. I’m proud about that.”
The Flames (7-40, 2-19 Big South) present the Cavaliers’ final two stabs at winning at home. Liberty has not enjoyed the pleasures of a successful season and come into Wednesday losers of 13 of their previous 14 contests.
In many ways the Flames represent a mirror-image of Virginia. As a team, Liberty is hitting .244 — the Cavaliers are only 10 points worse. Senior outfielder Katie Zavdony leads the team with a .346 average and brings speed to the base paths with 26 steals and three triples.
Two pitchers, sophomore Jo Annah Brittingham and senior Alyssa DiMartino, carry the load inside the circle for the Flames. The duo has 42 starts between them and a combined 6-35 record.
A pair of wins against an equally struggling Liberty team are ripe for the picking, and would at least make the final season win total look a tad bit more respectable.
“Any win total is better,” Miller said. “I’m not too fond of ‘Ls.’ We need to build on our swings and get stronger if we want to win.”
First pitch against the Dukes is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday in Charlottesville. The double-header against Liberty will begin at 4 p.m. Wednesday.