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Virginia softball swept by No. 13 Duke in Charlottesville

The Cavaliers drop their second straight series in conference play, both to ranked opponents

<p>Virginia's normally strong fielding defense committed a couple of key errors in the series to give Duke momentum.</p>

Virginia's normally strong fielding defense committed a couple of key errors in the series to give Duke momentum.

Coming off a win against James Madison Wednesday, Virginia softball faced No. 13 Duke in Charlottesville this weekend. Although they kept the first game close, the Cavaliers (22-19, 8-7 ACC) were blown out by the Blue Devils (34-5, 14-2 ACC) in the remaining two games to extend their conference losing streak to six.

After inclement weather postponed the Friday start of the series by one day, Virginia lost the first game of the series’ Saturday doubleheader 8-5. After a quiet first inning, Duke was able to get going in the second, putting up three runs on an RBI single and 2-RBI double.

The Blue Devils extended their lead to 5-0 in the top of the third inning, but the Cavaliers scored two runs of their own in the bottom of the inning. A fielding error by Duke on a single by Virginia senior outfielder Tori Gilbert allowed senior infielder Arizona Ritchie to score. Senior outfielder Bailey Winscott stole home to get another run for the Cavaliers.

Virginia cut the lead to two runs in the fourth inning after a double by junior infielder Gabby Baylog drove home junior infielder Katie Goldberg.

The Blue Devils hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning after a rare error by the Cavaliers allowed a player to get on base. Duke scored another run on a groundout to shortstop in the sixth inning, increasing their run total to eight.

The Cavaliers rallied in the bottom of the fifth inning to bring the score to 8-5, scoring two more runs from RBI singles by sophomore infielder Abby Weaver and redshirt freshman outfielder Lauren VanAssche. The rally was not enough to overcome the Blue Devils’ strong closing pitching however, as Virginia was held scoreless for the last two innings of the match.

Junior pitcher Molly Grube was given the loss after striking out three batters and giving up six hits and five runs during 2.1 innings pitched.

The Cavaliers struggled offensively in the second game Saturday, resulting in a 6-1 defeat. The Blue Devils got an RBI double in the first inning to get on the board first. They continued to get runs in the second inning with a two-run home run and another RBI double to take a commanding 4-0 lead. Virginia was unable to get a hit during the first two innings.

A triple to left center field by Duke in the fourth inning widened the lead. The Cavaliers scored their lone run in the bottom of the fourth inning on a single by senior catcher Donna Friedman that drove in sophomore utility player Leah Boggs.

The Blue Devils capped off their win with an RBI single to right field in the sixth inning after a batter was hit by a pitch from junior pitcher Morgan Murphy.

Virginia faced difficulties at the plate all series long, but it was especially evident in the second game, amassing only five hits. Duke graduate student pitcher Peyton St. George was effective at preventing the Cavaliers from getting going offensively, recording eight strikeouts and walking just two batters through seven innings. She moved to 16-2 on the season with the win.

Senior pitcher Aly Rayle received the loss for Virginia after striking out one and giving up five hits and four runs during two innings.

Unfortunately in the series finale Sunday, the Cavaliers continued to face problems offensively, losing 10-2 after just six innings. Virginia started the game strong, scoring in the first inning after a single by Goldberg brought home Gilbert. However, the Cavaliers were unable to capitalize with two players on base, ending the inning on a line drive by Weaver to shortstop.

The Virginia pitching and defense did a good job containing the Blue Devils in the first two innings, but Duke exploded offensively in the third inning, scoring seven runs. With the bases loaded, graduate student infielder Rachel Crabtree hit a single up the middle to drive in two runs. A fielding error by the Cavaliers allowed another run to score. A two-RBI single increased the damage, giving Duke a 5-1 lead. Senior outfielder Caroline Jacobsen hit a two-run home run to close out the inning.

The Blue Devils tacked on three more runs in the top of the sixth inning, powered by a three-run home run by graduate student outfielder Jameson Kavel. Virginia showed some life in the bottom of the sixth, scoring one run on a sacrifice fly to right field by freshman infielder Reece Holbrook. Unfortunately, the Cavaliers’ rally ended there, as two flyouts brought the game — and series — to a close due to the mercy rule of college softball. Grube received the loss for Virginia. She pitched 2.2 innings, giving up seven runs and five hits and striking out just one batter.

“The last couple of weekends and going into the next few weekends have been good for our pitching staff to learn a lot,” Coach Joanna Hardin said. “One big inning was the difference and great teams will take advantage of mistakes and opportunities — that’s what happened in the third inning today.”

The Cavaliers have now been swept in two straight conference series as they face some of the top-ranked teams in the ACC. They will look to fare better next weekend against No. 4 Virginia Tech, currently in first place in the conference with just one conference loss. The series will also count towards the Commonwealth Clash between the two schools, which Virginia Tech currently leads 9.5-2.5.

The series will open in Blacksburg, Va. Thursday at 6 p.m., followed by games Friday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. The Thursday and Friday games will be broadcast on ACCNX, and it has not been announced yet whether the Saturday game will be televised.