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Virginia softball takes critical series against No. 11 Clemson

A shutout in the tiebreaker clinches the Cavaliers’ first ever series win over the Tigers.

<p>Virginia celebrates its first series victory over Clemson in program history.</p>

Virginia celebrates its first series victory over Clemson in program history.

Palmer Park was rocking Sunday afternoon in Charlottesville as Virginia defeated Clemson to take the three-game weekend series. Prior to the first game of the series Friday afternoon, the Cavaliers (20-10, 7-5 ACC) were winless against the No. 11 Tigers (22-9, 6-3 ACC) in ten previous meetings — a win Friday and another victory Sunday sealed Virginia’s first game and series victories against Clemson in school history. 

Game 1 — Virginia 6, Clemson 4

Clemson came out swinging in the series opener. A two-out, two-run home run from senior utility player Alia Logoleo opened up the scoring in the top of the first inning. Freshman pitcher Julia Cuozzo, who started the game for Virginia, came back out for the top half of the second inning but promptly gave up back-to-back home runs to junior catcher Aby Vieira and freshman outfielder Kylee Johnson. Senior pitcher Madison Harris entered the game in relief of Cuozzo and ended the inning without further incident. 

Harris righted the ship for the Cavaliers, going on to throw just over four scoreless innings and allowing just two hits and one walk. Virginia’s bats quickly responded, cutting the Tigers’ lead in half with two runs in the bottom of the third — a single from freshman infielder Bella Cabral and a Clemson throwing error allowed senior catcher Leah Boggs to round third base and come home. The second run came courtesy of senior utility player Abby Weaver, who drove in sophomore infielder Jade Hylton with another single. 

With Harris dominating Clemson’s lineup, the Cavaliers continued to work their way back into the ballgame. Virginia notched a pair of singles to put two runners on with one out. A ball put in play by Boggs was misplayed by the shortstop, allowing sophomore infielder Kelsey Hackett to score and slicing the Tigers’ lead to just one run. A dangerous situation for Clemson was exacerbated when senior pitcher Valerie Cagle walked Hylton, loading the bases with only one out. Cabral, who now sports a .287 batting average, waited in the on-deck circle. 

Trying to stop the bleeding, senior pitcher Millie Thompson came in to pitch for the Tigers, ending Cagle’s day. But Thompson could not stop the Cavaliers either, as Cabral laced a hard line drive to left-center field for a double, driving in three runs and giving Virginia a 6-4 lead. 

Pitching dominated the remainder of the game — sophomore pitcher Eden Bigham entered the game in relief of Harris with one out and two Tigers on base. The threat lasted only briefly, with Bigham recording two quick outs to end the inning. Bigham shut down Clemson in the seventh inning to earn the save and seal the win.

Game 2 — Virginia 1, Clemson 5

Clemson looked to even up the series in Charlottesville Saturday afternoon. This time, it was the Cavaliers who came out firing, as a string of three singles with two outs culminated in a single from junior utility player Sarah Coon, driving in Weaver to give Virginia an early lead. 

That was where the scoring ended for the Cavaliers, however. Bigham started strong with two scoreless innings, but the Tigers broke through in the third with two runs on back-to-back hits by Cagle and Logoleo.

The Tigers added to the damage in the fourth inning when junior infielder Maddie Moore doubled and then scored on a single from Vieira. Bigham rebounded with a quick punchout to bring her to one out before the end of the inning, but a triple from senior utility player Arielle Oda and a single from junior utility player Alex Brown extended the Tigers’ lead to four runs before the frame came to a close. 

Bigham’s outing ended following the fourth inning, but the damage was done. Senior pitcher Mikayla Houge held Clemson scoreless in the final three innings, allowing no runs on two hits and three walks.

Senior pitcher Regan Spencer, who started Saturday’s contest for Clemson, dominated Virginia for the entirety of the game, throwing seven innings and allowing just one run on four hits and two walks. The loss evoked the memory of Virginia’s series loss against North Carolina, when the lineup was unable to take the pressure off of the pitching staff.

Game 3 — Virginia 3, Clemson 0

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, Palmer Park hosted the decisive third game of the series. A series win against No. 11 Clemson would significantly boost the stock of a growing program and potentially elevate Virginia to more prominent conversations in the ACC. 

In a game with such dramatic implications, sophomore pitcher Courtney Layne started for the Cavaliers. Layne allowed the first two batters to reach base — the first on a hit by pitch and the second on a walk — in what looked to be a dicey first inning for the hosts, but the sophomore recovered with a pair of strikeouts and a fielder’s choice to strand both baserunners. 

After a scoreless bottom half from Virginia, Layne once again plunked the leadoff hitter. After inducing a lineout and giving up a single, Layne once again slammed the door on a threatening situation with an inning-ending double play. 

The Cavaliers opened up the scoring in the bottom of the second with small ball and defensive miscues by the Tigers. With Hackett on first and two outs, Hackett promptly stole second to put herself in scoring position. On the ensuing play, junior utility player Kelly Ayer tapped a ground ball to the shortstop, who did not attempt a throw to first. Hackett, rounding third base aggressively, bolted for home plate and beat the throw from shortstop to score Virginia's first run of the game with a gutsy, heads-up play. 

With the Cavaliers in the lead, Layne made way for Harris in the circle. Harris picked up right where she left off Friday, pitching five scoreless frames to complete a shutout of Clemson — up until Sunday, the Tigers had yet to be denied a run in a game this season. 

Virginia was kept at one run until the fifth inning, when Hylton came up to bat with Ayer on base and one out. With one ball and one strike, Hylton smacked an opposite-field shot to right-center field, a two-run home run to extend the Cavaliers’ lead to three runs. 

The home run was Hylton’s sixth of the season, the most on the team and an exclamation mark on a remarkable series win for Virginia. With Harris’ flawless close to the game, the Cavaliers conquered the Tigers in a series few expected Virginia to win. Coach Joanna Hardin emphasized the team’s constant belief, praising Harris and noting the importance of finding production in different places every game. 

“Madi Harris came up huge for the whole weekend and really kept them at bay all day today,” Hardin said. “It’s someone different every day. You never know who will get the big hit or have their big moment. That’s what makes this team special. Everyone is ready to go and hungry. There’s a deep belief in who we are and what we’re capable of being. I’m proud of the team for sticking through it and fighting through the weekend.”

The series victory over Clemson marks Virginia’s second consecutive series win in ACC play. The Cavaliers will take some brief detours from the ACC this week as they embark on a Tuesday road trip to Liberty and a Wednesday trip to James Madison, before heading to Philadelphia to face Villanova for a three-game set. The series opener against the Wildcats starts Friday at 4:30 p.m.

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