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Virginia softball stutters at the plate, drops two of three games at North Carolina

The Cavaliers won the series opener, but fell to the Tar Heels twice Sunday

<p>The Cavaliers racked up just five combined hits in their two losses to the Tar Heels over the weekend.&nbsp;</p>

The Cavaliers racked up just five combined hits in their two losses to the Tar Heels over the weekend. 

Following a series victory over Boston College and a Tuesday win against Longwood, Virginia softball traveled to Chapel Hill over the weekend for a three-game set against North Carolina. The Cavaliers (15-7, 3-3 ACC) shut out the Tar Heels (19-4, 2-1 ACC) Friday for a series-opening win and fourth consecutive victory overall, but dropped the series after falling in the final two games Sunday. 

Game 1 — Virginia 3, North Carolina 0

The opening game of the series was highlighted by a stellar performance from sophomore pitcher Eden Bigham, who hurled a complete game shutout on the mound for Virginia. Bigham allowed only three hits and three walks to North Carolina across seven innings of work, striking out six Tar Heels in the process.

The Cavaliers were kept scoreless themselves for the opening four innings by freshman pitcher Nikki Harris, who tossed six and a third innings for North Carolina. Virginia produced a single in each of the first four frames and put a runner in scoring position twice, but Harris worked out of these jams seamlessly each time. 

That was until the top of the fifth inning, when senior catcher Leah Boggs ripped a double to right center field with one out. Sophomore infielder Jade Hylton singled on the next at bat to place runners on first and third, and freshman infielder Bella Cabral cashed in for the Cavaliers with a sacrifice fly that scored Boggs. Virginia led 1-0 heading to the bottom half of the fifth.

Bigham ran into trouble in that frame, allowing two base runners for the first time in the game, but with two on and two out, the sophomore got freshman infielder Kate Bubela to fly out and end the inning. Both pitchers worked scoreless sixth innings, and the game moved to the final frame with the Cavaliers leading by a lone run.

Virginia provided insurance for Bigham in its final chance at the plate, as junior infielder Shelby Barbee kickstarted the rally with a hit by pitch before Boggs laced her third hit of the ball game to put two runners on base with just one out. Hylton’s ensuing double scored freshman outfielder and infielder Kamyria Woody-Giggetts, a pinch-runner for Barbee, and Cabral singled to bring home Boggs. Bigham finished off her complete game comfortably, and the Cavaliers took the first game of the series 3-0. 

Game 2 — Virginia 1, North Carolina 4

The first of two games Sunday ended in defeat for Virginia, who registered only three hits in the contest. Tar Heels sophomore pitcher Kenna Raye Dark kept the Cavaliers quiet all day, going the distance without allowing a single walk.

Despite the defeat, it was Virginia who struck first. Cabral got the Cavaliers on the board in the third inning with her second sacrifice fly of the weekend, bringing home Boggs for what would be the visitors’ only run of the game.

Virginia’s lead didn’t last long, as North Carolina frustrated senior pitcher Mikayla Houge in the bottom of the fourth inning. The Tar Heels put three consecutive batters on base with a pair of singles and a fielding error, which tied the game and set the hosts up with runners on first and second with no outs. Houge got graduate first baseman Lexi Godwin to ground into a double play, but graduate catcher Autumn Owen fired a double to right field on the next at bat that scored the go-ahead run for North Carolina.

An inning later, the Tar Heels added to their lead behind a two-run double from graduate infielder Abby Settlemyre. With six outs left to surmount a three-run deficit, the Cavaliers could only muster one hit in the final two innings. North Carolina picked up a 4-1 victory to even the series and set up a tiebreaker match in the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader. 

Game 3 — Virginia 1, North Carolina 6

The ensuing series-decider didn’t go any better for Virginia, as the Tar Heels figured things out at the plate against Bigham. Virginia scored the first run on an RBI single from sophomore utility player Mary Caroline Eaton in the first inning, but Eaton’s knock would represent the Cavaliers’ final hit of the game. 

Bigham shut down North Carolina in the first two frames, but the Tar Heels began to do damage in the bottom of the third inning. With one on and one out, freshman outfielder Sanaa Thompson connected on a two-run home run to put North Carolina in front, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. 

Bigham was removed and replaced by freshman pitcher Julia Cuozzo with two outs and one runner on base in the fourth inning, but Cuozzo couldn’t get Virginia out of the jam. She allowed two hits and a walk before recording the inning-ending out, which came only after the Tar Heels had scored two more runs to push their lead to 4-1.

A home run by Owen added two more runs for North Carolina in the bottom of the fifth inning, stretching the advantage to five runs. Virginia appeared to be putting together a seventh-inning rally after loading the bases on a trio of walks with just one out, but a key pitching change by the Tar Heels — replacing junior Britton Rogers with senior pitcher Talia Hannappel — signaled the end for the Cavaliers, who were set down twice in a row to seal the game and the series for North Carolina.

Virginia collected only five combined hits in its two losses over the weekend. Coach Joanna Hardin was disappointed with Sunday’s results, emphasizing the Cavaliers’ need to provide more support for their pitchers.

“Offensively we are putting a lot of pressure on our pitching staff,” Hardin said. “We have to put up runs and execute in situations. Overall, we have to be better across the board and there is no secret to that.”

Now sitting an even 3-3 in ACC play, Virginia enters the middle of the season with more questions than answers in its lineup. The Cavaliers have little time to sort out their kinks, as the games continue to come thick and fast with each week.

Virginia will take on Maryland in a road matchup Tuesday at 6 p.m. before hosting Syracuse for a three-game set this weekend. The series against the Orange will be streamed on ACC Network, with the opening game set to start Friday at 3 p.m. 


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