This weekend the Virginia softball team traveled to Chapel Hill, N.C. to compete in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, where they faced off against No. 23 Maryland and Minnesota twice each. The Cavaliers (6-4, 0-0 ACC) went 1-3 on the weekend, falling to the Terrapins (8-1, 0-0 Big Ten) twice and splitting against the Golden Gophers (5-4, 0-0 Big Ten).
While the overall results were not in Virginia’s favor, the game flow and final scores indicated that the Cavaliers belonged alongside their stiff competition. Virginia’s three losses came by a total of four runs overall.
Game 1 – Virginia 1, Maryland 2
Virginia kicked off the challenge against Maryland in a tight affair Friday, falling 2-1 after a home run in the sixth inning put Maryland ahead. The Terrapins had cracked the top 25 rankings just prior to the challenge after surprising early season wins over No. 22 Oregon and No. 3 Oklahoma State.
The Cavaliers took an early lead in the second when senior infielder Gabby Baylong scored on a delayed steal. The game remained 1-0 in favor of Virginia until sophomore catcher Amelia Lech of the Terrapins hit a two-run home run in the sixth.
Freshman pitcher Eden Bigham allowed two runs on three hits with four walks and seven strikeouts, pitching a complete game.
“Eden pitched well, it was just one mistake that got hit out,” Coach Joanna Hardin said after the game.
The Cavaliers would need to get their bats going in order to compete this weekend after their only run came off of a setpiece baserunning play instead of being driven in.
Game 2 – Virginia 3, Minnesota 0
After a tough break Friday, Virginia defeated the Gophers 3-0 Saturday morning, in a game that required two extra innings to produce even a single score.
The Cavaliers had three total hits until the ninth inning, where they broke out to take a 3-0 victory. Sophomore utility player Sarah Coons started the scoring in the ninth with a solo home run. Freshman utility player Mary Caroline Eaton and sophomore utility player Kelly Ayer both hit doubles before a throwing error allowed Ayer to reach home plate for the 3-0 score.
Senior pitcher Molly Grube dominated, allowing only three hits and one walk with five strikeouts in a complete game shutout.
Another slow offensive game for the Cavaliers was broken open in the ninth, but Virginia likely loses the game if not for Grube’s heroic efforts on the mound.
Game 3 – Virginia 4, Maryland 6
Virginia returned to the field against Maryland Saturday afternoon, where they once again lost after scoring the first run, by a score of 6-4.
A pair of Terrapin errors in the first led to the Cavaliers' opening run. Maryland responded in the third, scoring two runs on a bases-loaded single. They then scored a solo home run in the 4th to take a 3-1 lead.
Coon pulled Virginia within one with a solo home run of her own in the fifth. However, the Terrapins doubled their score on a home run and a two-RBI single. Virginia nearly rallied in the sixth with a two-RBI triple from sophomore outfielder Kailyn Jones. Ultimately, the comeback effort failed, though Virginia challenged Maryland on both occasions.
“We knew this weekend would be tough with some really tough opponents,” Hardin said. “I’m proud of the fight.”
After initially losing the lead, it would have been easy for the Cavaliers to roll over against their steep competition. Instead, they rallied, showing heart even in a losing effort.
Game 4 – Virginia 1, Minnesota 2
The Cavaliers closed out their weekend against Minnesota Sunday, losing 2-1 in another game featuring extra innings.
Virginia once again scored first, this time in the sixth inning as Coon scored on a sacrifice fly to right field from freshman infielder Jade Hylton. The Gophers tied the game an inning later as a ball was driven deep to right field, extending the game to extras.
Minnesota took the lead in the eighth on a single to beat the Cavaliers 2-1. Grube took the loss after relieving Bigham in the second. She allowed one run on three hits.
Head coach Joanna Hardin was not disappointed with the results, in spite of the poor record in the challenge.
“The more we are in those situations, it will be better for us,” Hardin said. “Freshmen are getting used to that challenge and upperclassmen are coming through.”
The schedule softens in the coming weeks for the Cavaliers, where they will need to tap into the offensive firepower that led them to a 5-1 start to the season. Virginia plays at home for the first time this season against Longwood Thursday at 4 p.m. in the Cavalier Classic and will be broadcasted on the ACCNX Network.