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Virginia softball battles for series win against NC State

The Cavaliers took two of three games against the Wolfpack in their first week as a ranked team this season

<p>The Cavaliers took the series decider in walk-off fashion Sunday.</p>

The Cavaliers took the series decider in walk-off fashion Sunday.

After Virginia entered Softball America’s top-25 rankings for the first time since 1995 last week, the team proved to fans why they should be there by winning their weekend series at Palmer Park versus NC State. While the No. 24 Cavaliers (28-13, 11-7 ACC) have only won 23 of 53 contests against the Wolfpack (23-20, 3-14 ACC) in total, they’ve now come out on top of eight of the last ten matchups since 2019. 

Game 1 — Virginia 2, NC State 0

The series opened Friday night at Palmer Park with Virginia’s sophomore pitcher Eden Bigham’s fourth shutout game of the 2024 season. Bigham threw eight strikeouts to keep NC State unable to reach home plate in her first complete game since March 1 against Boston College. 

The Cavaliers were able to reach their lead early after sophomore infielder Kelsey Hackett singled in the bottom of the second inning, allowing junior infielder Shelby Barbee to run home from third base. The Wolfpack had put themselves in a perfect position to make a move and get even in the top of the fifth, with the bases loaded and only one out, but Bigham didn’t allow them to break through — she struck out one hitter and quickly got a groundout to first base to get Virginia back at bat. 

The bottom of the fifth didn’t see any action from the Cavaliers, but they came back strong in the sixth, where Virginia solidified their Friday night victory with three hits and one run. The run was a result of another RBI by Hackett, who singled and brought in junior catcher Sarah Coon for the second run of the game. The Cavaliers triumphed 2-0, leaving themselves with a little bit of breathing room going into the rest of the series. 

Game 2 — Virginia 9, NC State 10

Saturday’s game was full of back and forths and marked the second time this season that the Cavaliers have lost a game while scoring at least three runs. Both the Cavaliers and the Wolfpack played forceful offense, yet each team saw their defense fall short.

Action emerged early on as the Wolfpack utilized two fielding errors by Virginia to get four runs on the board in the second inning — that was only the beginning of the 19-run action seen in Charlottesville Saturday. The Cavaliers tried to match the power the Wolfpack had exhibited when they came up to bat in the bottom of the second, as senior catcher Leah Boggs hit a sacrifice fly to get junior utility player Kelly Ayer home and put Virginia on the board.

Over the next two innings, the Cavaliers stepped up their game, holding off NC State while scoring three more runs to tie up the game. Coon hit a sacrifice fly in the third inning that scored freshman infielder Bella Cabral, and in the fourth, a two-run homer by sophomore infielder Jade Hylton knotted the score at four.

However, NC State was nowhere close to finished — over the fifth and sixth innings the visitors racked up four hits and six runs, creating a gap the Cavaliers were unable to close. With seven hits over the last three innings and a total of five players left on base over that time, Virginia came up just short at the end of the game, leaving the final score at 10-9. 

Coach Joanna Hardin realized that the energy had shifted between Friday and Saturday’s games.

“We had … some bases-loaded situations where we only came away with one run,” Hardin said. “We put ourselves in a position to bring the game winning run to the plate in the seventh, but it’s about finishing strong and to the best of our abilities.”

Game 3 — Virginia 3, NC State 2

The tiebreaker game Sunday afternoon was categorized by high-scoring third and fifth innings without much action aside from them — there were only two combined hits between the Cavaliers and the Wolfpack in the four innings that neither team scored. Warm and sunny out, there were lots of emotions from Virginia as the team celebrated its senior day in the series determiner. 

The real action started in the top of the third inning, where NC State was able to get two runs past the Cavaliers. Junior infielder Taylor Ensley hit a triple which allowed sophomore utility player Makayla Marbury to score, and later in that same inning Ensley got across home plate herself on a sacrifice fly. Despite leading 2-0, that marked the end of the Wolfpack’s scoring. 

The game still did not look promising for the Cavaliers — NC State’s sophomore pitcher Rylee Wyman held the offense steady for a few innings, making Virginia fans nervous about how the game would end up. However, the energy rose again as Hylton stepped up to the plate strong in the bottom of the fifth inning and knocked a home run, quickly followed by Cabral hitting a triple. Junior outfielder Kailyn Jones pinch ran for Cabral, and the Cavaliers continued to keep the game tight as senior utility player Abby Weaver hit a sacrifice fly that scored Jones and tied up the game. 

With neither team able to gain ground over the next two innings, Palmer Park held its collective breath as Weaver stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning — Virginia had the bases loaded and one out in a tie game with the Wolfpack. As Wyman threw her pitch, Weaver’s hit to center field was caught, but went far enough to allow Hackett to score on a sacrifice fly and secure the series victory for the Cavaliers in walk-off fashion. 

With Virginia rising in the national rankings, its consistency issue at the plate must be addressed if the team wants to finish out ACC play strong. While the Cavaliers’ pitching continues to challenge opponents, they must produce more offensively if they are to make the season a successful one. Scoring 14 runs over three games is an improvement from what they’ve posted in many past series, but there is still work to do. 

Virginia will face Virginia Tech in the Commonwealth Clash Tuesday for the last home game of the season, with the first pitch set for 6 p.m. Virginia will then go down to Durham this weekend for a series against Duke, with the first pitch of the opener to be thrown at 6 p.m. Friday. All games can be streamed on ACCNX. 


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