Though the field may be covered in snow right now, the grounds crew is no doubt working tirelessly to uncover the glistening Patriot Bermudagrass and prepare The Park for another season of Virginia softball.
After seeing several games slip from its grasp last weekend at the Citrus Classic, the Virginia softball team (3-12) is determined to seize the opportunity as it braces for its home-opening series against Pittsburgh this weekend.
The Cavaliers will compete against the Panthers (13-1) in a three-game set starting with a doubleheader 1 p.m. Saturday, followed by the series finale 12 p.m. Sunday.
“I’m excited,” sophomore second baseman Madison Labshere said. “I think that playing at home, and starting conference play at home, is going to be awesome. I think it’s going to pump everyone up, and hopefully we can get a win out of it.”
Despite returning winless from its six games at the Citrus Classic and amassing an eight-game losing streak, Labshere said she feels confident in her team’s ability to bounce back.
“It’s gonna come from the heart,” Labshere said. “It’s going to come from digging down deep and remembering where you came from, how you got here, and just contributing to the team whenever you can, in any way you can.”
Miller emphasized his team was close to winning several games in Orlando.
“This last weekend, we had the tying run, if not the winning run, on base in every seventh inning, and we were unable to close any of them,” Miller said. “One key hit, each game, we win all six games.”
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh had collected a 10-game win streak prior to its loss against Appalachian State Friday in the College of Charleston Tournament. However, Virginia doesn’t seem too worried about its opponent’s record.
“Right now, my only concern is on this [Virginia] team,” Miller said. “[Pittsburgh’s] got a little bit of pitching, they hit a little bit. Everything’s based on us. The only reason we’re in the state we are right now is we’ve had some unlucky streaks. We’re absolutely crushing the ball right at people, we’re making key errors.”
Defense appears to be a priority moving into the future for the Cavaliers, as Virginia has twice committed three or more errors in one inning this season, first against Nebraska-Omaha at the Eagle Challenge and again versus Campbell last weekend in Orlando.
“As I look into the future, it’s not so much looking at Pittsburgh,” Miller said. “It’s more at the internals, saying, ‘Hey, we stop the errors, we’re gonna win.’ Really, when it comes down to it, it’s just us staying constant.”
In the two teams’ last meeting, the Panthers swept the Cavaliers in a three-game series at Vartabedian Field in Pittsburgh, marking the teams’ first-ever encounter. However, Miller said he remains convinced that Pittsburgh will see a very different team this time around.
“We only had one pitcher last year, so, really, my experience with them is all thrown out,” Miller said. “This year’s completely different. It may look a lot of the same from the outside right now, but it’s a completely different offensive team, and our pitchers are going to get the job done.”
Virginia has eight newcomers this season, including six freshmen and two sophomore transfers.
“They add a little spunk to it,” Miller said of the team’s new players. “A bit more grit, a little more fight than what we had last year. It’s a good new group, and they bring a new spirit to it.”
Virginia is hoping to again display the offensive power that it has shown so far this season. The team has already scored at least 14 runs in a game on two separate occasions, first against UTEP and second against Delaware State. Despite playing only 15 games so far this season, the Cavaliers have launched 15 home runs and are well on their way to surpassing last season’s total of 24.
“We smoke the ball,” Miller said. “We hit the ball harder than anyone I’ve seen yet this year.”
Miller stressed the team’s goals of winning 40 games, which would likely qualify the Cavaliers for Regionals, and winning the ACC title.
“Until it’s taken away, that’s a goal and that’s what we’re gonna do,” he said.
Despite the deficit that the team currently faces, Virginia hopes to approach the home-opening series with an optimistic mindset.
“Especially with the early losses in the season, it’s important to stay on track, because it’s a long season, and we’re just getting started.” Labshere said. “I think my goal is to just stay positive, and keep the team moving in the right direction, because we’re almost there. It’s so exciting.”
First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday.