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Virginia softball wins three games in opening weekend, falls twice to No. 23 South Carolina

Although the Cavaliers started the weekend strong, they could not get past the Gamecocks

<p>The Cavaliers won their first three games of the South Carolina Tournament before dropping the final two to the Gamecocks.</p>

The Cavaliers won their first three games of the South Carolina Tournament before dropping the final two to the Gamecocks.

Virginia softball kicked off its 2024 season with five games across three days at the South Carolina Tournament. The Cavaliers (3-2, 0-0 ACC) started strongly with two wins over North Carolina Greensboro (1-4, 0-0 SoCon) and a victory against Jacksonville State (1-4, 0-0 OVC), but lost their last two contests to South Carolina (5-0, 0-0 SEC).

Game 1

In Virginia’s first game of the season against the Spartans, junior infielder and catcher Shelby Barbee started things off with a two-run home run to give Virginia an early lead. Later, a sacrifice fly from senior utility player Abby Weaver helped junior utility player Kelly Ayer cross the plate, while freshman infielder Macee Eaton knocked an RBI single.

Another sacrifice fly from senior catcher Leah Boggs and a run-scoring ground-out from Ayer in the fourth inning put Virginia far in advance with a 6-0 lead. North Carolina Greensboro began a comeback, however, with a three-run home run in the fifth inning. 

In the sixth inning, North Carolina Greensboro continued their effort with three runs, however Virginia’s defense stepped up in the seventh inning to solidify the Cavaliers’ 6-5 victory. 

Game 2

Virginia came back fighting in their second game of the weekend against Jacksonville State, getting out to an early lead with the help of Weaver, whose RBI single in the first inning put the Cavaliers in front. However, the Gamecocks fought back with a run in the third inning and then took the lead with a two-run single in the fifth inning.

However, a five-run fifth inning — highlighted by a two-run single from Weaver — pushed Virginia into a 7-3 lead that they never relinquished. Senior pitcher Savanah Henley proved instrumental in keeping the lead for the Cavaliers, as she allowed just three runs across six innings of work. Coach Joanna Hardin was impressed by her team’s resolve after falling behind early in the game.

“I like that our backs were against the wall and we fought back in game two,” Hardin said. “In game one we had the big lead and stayed composed and poised to get some timely hits and some big hits. We learned a lot and have a lot to work on, but we saw a lot of positives today too.” 

Game 3

The Cavaliers went into the second day of competition with yet another strong showing against North Carolina Greensboro. Virginia got two runs in the third inning, with sophomore infielder Jade Hylton and freshman infielder Bella Cabral both hitting RBI singles. Ayer remained another key player, scoring off the Hylton hit after stealing second base. 

A throwing error by the Spartans in the fourth inning allowed two runs to score, and the Cavaliers pushed themselves to a 4-0 lead. Virginia earned two more runs in the seventh inning, and senior pitcher Mikayla Houge helped close out the matchup successfully.

Game 4

In their second game of the day and fourth of the weekend, the Cavaliers fell 6-1 to South Carolina. After a quiet opening four innings in which the two teams combined for only two hits, the Gamecocks took a dominant lead in the fifth inning. They loaded the bases and scored the game’s first run on a groundout before tacking on two consecutive hits that plated three more. South Carolina finished the job in the sixth inning with two more runs, putting Virginia behind 6-0. 

A bright spot for the Cavaliers, however, was Cabral’s first collegiate home run, a blast that gave Virginia its only run of the game. 

“We made a couple of mistakes, but that’s part of it and learning about yourself,” Hardin said. “We're learning and growing and that’s all you can ask right now.” 

Game 5

The Cavaliers closed out the weekend with a second consecutive loss to South Carolina. The game started slow, with the first two innings remaining scoreless. The Gamecocks took a significant 4-0 lead in the third inning with a grand slam, then added to its lead in the fifth and sixth innings with three more runs, pushing the lead to 7-0. An RBI double by Weaver in the seventh inning acted as the only run for Virginia, who fell 7-1. 

Although the Cavaliers could not take down the Gamecocks in the end, Hardin saw more positives than negatives from her team’s overall performance.

“I think the weekend was very positive,” Hardin said. “We had a lot of good moments … We have to clean that up and be true to who we are at all times. We’ll get back to work to head to Tuscaloosa next weekend.”

Virginia is back in action Friday to Sunday when they participate in the Easton Bama Bash against Southern Indiana, No. 12 Alabama and St. Thomas in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Cavaliers are set to play five total games during the three-day tournament, two of which will come against the Crimson Tide. The upcoming weekend will not be any easier than the last for Virginia, who will need to search for answers on offense after scoring only two runs in its pair of games against South Carolina.


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