The Virginia softball team will visit Harrisonburg as it competes in a two-game series against James Madison. The games were originally scheduled for March 4, but inclement weather postponed the games until Wednesday.
The Cavaliers (5-21, 1-8 ACC) are looking to turn the tide of their season, having endured eight losses in their last nine games. After earning a hard-fought victory in a doubleheader split against George Mason, the team was swept by conference rival Louisville in a three game series last weekend. Now, Virginia is looking to get on track with two wins against the Dukes (17-6) as they compete in their yearly doubleheader clash.
The Cavaliers’ offense has come alive in recent games, scoring four or more runs in four of their last five games, including 10 and seven runs in the doubleheader against Mason last Wednesday. The Cavaliers have already slugged 27 home runs, surpassing their season total from last year of 24. The team hopes to play on this strength while refining notable weaknesses in defense and pitching.
“As a team, we’re definitely getting our hitting, scoring more runs, and we’re also tightening up on defense more,” sophomore infielder Kaitlin Fitzgerald said. “[We’re] not giving up as many runs, not as many errors.”
The Cavaliers committed five errors in their two games against the Patriots, but cleaned up their defense against the Cardinals.
“A big thing we’ve improved is our pitching staff,” coach Blake Miller said. “We’re doing a lot better getting after hitters, and very few walks, also.”
Miller remarked that, while the team packs quite a punch with the bats, the Cavaliers still need to focus on consistency and playing crisp defense.
“[We’re] still swinging the bats, just not consistently,” he said. “Really, we’re only getting six hits, but we’re putting up five runs because of our power. We should be putting up twelve hits a game. [We] had a couple games with no errors. Still need to make the big play though. There’s a lot of good things happening, but still gotta make those big plays to push you over the hump.”
Despite the deficit the team currently faces, Fitzgerald said that she doesn’t find it difficult to stay consistently motivated.
“We’ve been tight in every game,” she said. “We know we’re right there. We know we can win these games.”
Miller said he agrees with Fitzgerald’s sentiments.
“It’s frustrating right now, because I know where we could be,” he said. “Not very difficult [to stay motivated], because of how young we really are. It makes it really easy because we’re progressing.”
The Cavaliers have played in a number of close games recently, including walk-off losses at George Mason and at Louisville. In both of these instances, the Cavaliers held the lead entering the bottom of the seventh inning before surrendering the winning hits.
Miller reiterated the importance of executing crucial defensive plays in winning these close games in the later innings.
“[We need to] make the big play to close it out,” Miller said. “We’re not making the big play, turning the double plays that need to be turned. We make that play, we win over half these games.”
James Madison has collected an eight-game win streak, with only one loss in its last 11 games. Despite beginning the season with middling results, the Dukes have soared ahead in the win column with consistent victories over the course of the last few weeks, and are looking to continue this trend with a pair of victories against Virginia.
A doubleheader between the Virginia and James Madison has been a yearly occurrence recently, but James Madison has swept aside the Cavaliers in each of the last two series. Virginia, which owns a 23-15 record against the Dukes, is looking to continue its history of victories over James Madison and put an end to their hot streak.
Regardless of the team’s record, its goals remain the same. Virginia has its eyes set on the ACC Tournament, for which only the top-five teams in the conference qualify, and beyond.
“Right now, we gotta go win some games and get into the ACC Tournament,” Miller said. “The rest, we’ll take it from there.”
At this point in the season for the Cavaliers, the key to winning is putting it all together.
“Not one thing is going to take us over the hump,” he said. “All of it’s got to go together. You take care of the errors, you hit the ball as we should, you quit walking people, and you’ll win games.”
First pitch is scheduled for 5:00 p.m.