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Virginia softball looks to play underdog in ACC Tournament

Their hopes of advancing to the NCAA Tournament all fall on Thursday’s game against Florida State

<p>Virginia will look for some offensive firepower and a continuation of strong fielding in order to take down the Seminoles.</p>

Virginia will look for some offensive firepower and a continuation of strong fielding in order to take down the Seminoles.

Virginia softball has had an exceptional softball season this spring. Highlighted by one of the best ACC starts in program history, the Cavaliers (27-23, 13-11 ACC) have tied program records of 13 total ACC wins and four ACC series wins this year.

As a reward for the record-tying performance, Virginia has earned the sixth seed in the ACC Tournament, which started Wednesday. This is the highest seed for the Cavaliers since 2012, when they were also seeded sixth.

The tournament, hosted by Pittsburgh, consists of the top-10 ACC teams, ranked by regular season conference win-loss records. As the sixth seed, Virginia received a first-round bye and will square off in the quarterfinals against third-seeded Florida State Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

Every game will be streamed on ACC Network with the exception of the championship game, which will be broadcast on ESPN Saturday at 1 p.m.

The Cavaliers have been hard at work since their last regular season game against Louisville on May 1. 

While the program has had an all-time year, after their loss to close the regular season, Coach Joanna Hardin emphasized how the Cavaliers were still hungry heading into the postseason.

“The work doesn’t stop for us,” Hardin said. “We accomplished one goal of being over .500 this season and have an opportunity to accomplish our second goal of making the NCAA Tournament.”

In CollegeSportsMadness.com’s bracketology of the Women’s College World Series, Virginia is currently not in the field of teams, while Florida State sits at a three seed in the Tallahassee regional. If the Cavaliers want to clinch an NCAA Tournament berth, they will surely have to make a run in the ACC Tournament, which will involve beating Florida State first. 

In their series against Florida State earlier this season, the Cavaliers were outplayed by the Seminoles (49-5, 19-5 ACC), who have dominated their competition this year. 

Florida State swept Virginia, winning all three games convincingly in early April. They have swept three other ACC opponents, including Georgia Tech, Clemson and most recently NC State.

However, the Seminoles have looked vulnerable at moments this year. The team lost one time each to Pittsburgh, Boston College and North Carolina, while Virginia Tech beat Florida State twice. 

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers swept both Pittsburgh and Boston College in their series against those ACC opponents. Even after being outclassed by Florida State earlier this year, hopefully the Cavaliers can use their previous successes as motivation to take down the Seminoles in the single-elimination style tournament.

To take down Florida State, Virginia will need the help of its offensive leaders, as the Seminoles are second in the ACC this year with 323 runs scored — compared to the Cavaliers, who are ninth with 223 runs scored. 

Sophomore utility player Leah Boggs and junior infielder/outfielder Gabby Baylog will be key for the Cavaliers at the plate. The duo lead Virginia in batting average, with Boggs hitting .288 and Baylog hitting .280 for the year. Boggs also leads Virginia with 12 doubles.

Additionally, junior infielder Katie Goldberg and senior outfielder Tori Gilbert lead the Cavaliers in home runs this season. Goldberg has 10 and Gilbert has 11 — the only two players with double-digit home runs on the team.

On the defensive side of the ball, Virginia’s fielding will be critical. The Cavaliers had a fielding percentage of .975 this season — good for second in the conference — while the Seminoles fielded at average of .956.

Sophomore right-hander Mikayla Houge looks poised to start — or at least pitch in some capacity — against the Seminoles. Houge (9-5) leads Virginia with 92.0 innings pitched, as well as posting the most wins on the team at nine. For Florida State, senior pitcher Mack Leonard has led the way with a .383 pitching average in 53 games played. 

Thursday’s game may very well determine whether the Cavaliers’ season continues, but win or lose, Virginia softball is headed in the right direction under Hardin.

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