The Virginia softball team will take a break from conference play as it concludes its twelve-game homestand with a doubleheader against Longwood Wednesday.
The Cavaliers (13-33, 4-14 ACC) have gone 6-4 over the course of their homestand, starting out strong with series wins over Western Carolina and Boston College, before splitting a doubleheader against Virginia Tech and dropping two games against North Carolina State.
Now, as its home schedule winds to a close, Virginia hopes to end this season’s term at the Park with a set of victories.
Meanwhile, Longwood (20-21, 14-4 Big South) is coming off of a three-game sweep against Gardner-Webb at Lancer Field in Farmville, Virginia. The Lancers have enjoyed relative success in conference play this season, but have struggled to maintain an overall winning record, having endured an 11-game losing streak at the start of the season.
In the two squads’ last encounter, the Cavaliers were defeated 6-4 and 8-4, dropping the doubleheader in Farmville a year ago. Longwood owns a 14-13 all-time series record against Virginia. The Lancers will look to extend their lead, as well as break .500 on the season, with two wins over the Cavaliers.
As the season winds down, Virginia has plenty riding on their upcoming series, especially its final ACC series against Florida State and Syracuse. Virginia currently sits No. 9 in the conference and is looking to work its way into the top eight, which will qualify for the ACC Tournament.
The relatively young Cavaliers have earned much of their success thanks to the improvement of a few players such as freshman third baseman Lauren Heintzelman, who is tied for second on the team with four home runs and has provided sturdy defense at the hot corner.
“I think everyone has really stepped up and improved,” freshman shortstop Allison Davis said. “In particular, someone who’s worked really hard and has worked her way into the lineup would have to be Lauren Heintzelman. She’s doing a great job at third [and] makes my job at shortstop way easier. Lauren’s come in and hit some bombs for us at bat, so that’s really good.”
Another Virginia player who has consistently stepped-up this season is sophomore first baseman Kaitlin Fitzgerald, who leads the team with a .373 batting average, 53 hits and 35 RBIs, and has solidified first base with her .934 fielding percentage, despite starting the season at third.
“Kaitlin’s doing a great job at first, too, after transferring over there,” Davis said.
Coach Blake Miller said that he expects several leaders to rise among the team in the years to come.
“We’ve had a bunch that have improved,” he said. “Still, we’re just so young, our leaders are still developing. Kaitlin Fitzgerald is really the main one who’s stepping up and putting herself apart. We have five people hitting [near or over] .300, where last year we barely had one. Overall, it’s a pretty good sign that we have made this big of a stride in one year.”
Despite the team’s youth, the Cavaliers have also shattered the program’s single season home run record, blasting 45 shots over the course of the season. The previous record was 40, set in 2009.
Regardless of the team’s record-breaking power, Davis says she feels the team is always looking to perform better and raise the bar higher.
“I think we’re never going to be where we expect to be in terms of offense, because our coaches are always pushing us to raise our standards higher and higher,” Davis said. “But we expected this team to have a really strong offense coming into the season, and I think we’ve definitely reached that expectation. Of course, that expectation is going to [be raised].”
Miller expressed the same sentiment and holds high expectations for the team’s future.
“This is pretty much what I expected,” he said. “We should be more than this, but that comes with a little bit more experience and ... leadership, that somebody steps up and says ‘get on my back, let’s go’ and then everybody else is ready to go. There’s not that one person that’s just taken off. The closest one is Kaitlin - she’s hitting almost .400, but, like I said, it just comes with experience and getting a better role.”
The team’s success this season, in combination with its current youth and future growth, should serve as a huge confidence boost heading into forthcoming seasons.
“Every year I go in and expect us to win 40 games,” Miller said. “That’s just kind of the base set that I think we should be at. Maybe it was unfair expecting that out of a bunch of first years and second years, but still, if we do what we were supposed to do, we should be there.”
Reflecting on this season, Davis said she feels proud of the team’s ability to battle each game and achieve success.
“I think we’ve had some ups and some downs, but we’ve definitely fought through the season, and each and every game is a fight,” she said. “We’re never just gonna give up on any game.”
The Cavaliers will look to continue their success this season and end their homestand strong as they compete against Longwood Wednesday.
First pitch is scheduled for 5:00 p.m.