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Virginia softball picks up a pair of wins at Villanova

The Cavaliers continued to show their offensive capabilities as they scored ten runs over two games against the Wildcats

<p>Senior center fielder Lauren VanAssche dashes to second base after hitting an RBI double to extend the Cavaliers' lead Friday.</p>

Senior center fielder Lauren VanAssche dashes to second base after hitting an RBI double to extend the Cavaliers' lead Friday.

Following wins against both Liberty and James Madison Tuesday and Wednesday, Virginia softball traveled to Villanova for a two-game series Friday and Saturday. The Cavaliers (24-10, 7-5 ACC) hadn’t played the Wildcats (18-14, 9-0 Big East) since 2004 before the series-opening game Friday, but they delivered with a pair of wins. Virginia shut down Villanova’s offensive attack in both games, only allowing the hosts to score three total runs. 

Game 1 — Virginia 5, Villanova 2

While Friday’s victory for the Cavaliers was heavily facilitated by a strong offensive output, both teams went scoreless over the first three innings — however, it was not for lack of trying. Each inning consisted of some very close calls until Virginia’s freshman infielder Macee Eaton finally scored thanks to a groundout by junior catcher Sarah Coon. Eaton was able to steal third base and get in prime scoring position after Villanova senior pitcher Alyssa Seidler’s wild pitch earlier in the inning. 

That first run was quickly followed by a second for the Cavaliers — sophomore infielder Kelsey Hackett ran all the way home from first base on a double by senior center fielder Lauren VanAssche. Virginia held the Wildcats scoreless for the rest of the inning as sophomore pitcher Eden Bigham walked one player and struck out the next three. 

The Cavaliers didn’t stop there amidst the somewhat disruptive start to the inning — freshman infielder Bella Cabral was hit by a pitch as the fifth inning started, taking first base. Junior outfielder Kailyn Jones pinch ran for her and immediately stole second base. That move set her up to score after an Eaton single, putting the visiting Cavaliers on top 3-0.

Virginia was able to shut out Villanova for another inning, keeping the lead at three runs after the bottom of the fifth. But the Wildcats made their move in the sixth inning quickly — sophomore infielder Lilly St. Jean was the first at-bat and singled to third base. With everything in place for Villanova to score, Virginia had to be more attentive than ever. 

However, the Wildcats had set themselves up spectacularly, and there was nothing the Cavaliers could do to stop junior infielder Ava Franz’s home run that sent both her and St. Jean across home plate. Villanova stayed aggressive for the rest of the inning, but was unable to take any more ground from Virginia as the sixth inning came to a close 3-2. 

The top of the seventh continued the back-and-forth battle between the teams as Cabral’s bunt single scored senior catcher Leah Boggs. Quickly after, Cabral herself scored on a sacrifice fly from Eaton. The Cavaliers held the Wildcats quiet for yet another inning, ending the game in a 5-2 win. Coach Joanna Hardin was impressed with the energy her team brought to the field. 

“It was gritty and competitive, and today may be the most proud I’ve been of this team,” Hardin said. “Villanova is tough and we know they’ll come back ready to go tomorrow. We’ll have our work cut out for us to finish this weekend strong, but that’s our goal to sprint through the finish line this weekend.”

Game 2 — Virginia 5, Villanova 1

The second game of the weekend was met with seven slow innings in which each team was able to score one run. Forced into an eighth inning, Virginia turned up their energy and scored four more runs to win the game. 

Villanova took control of the first inning after shutting the Cavaliers out in the top of the first — senior outfielder Tess Cites was the first Wildcat at bat and hit a home run to center field. She scored early and led her team into the game with a small cushion, leaving Virginia to play catch-up. 

The offensive action stuttered after the first inning, with neither team finding many hits. The second through fifth frames saw no action until sophomore infielder Jade Hylton stepped up to the plate. The Cavaliers’ first hitter of the sixth inning, Hylton hit a homer that tied the game at 1-1. The score stayed steady through the seventh inning, forcing the game into an eighth. 

Virginia understood that it needed to make its move and did exactly that. Four runs were scored by the Cavaliers, one each by Boggs, Hylton, sophomore outfield Kassidy Hudson and Cabral. This unrelentless offense paired with strong defense kept Virginia ahead to win the second and final game of the series 5-1. 

While the second game saw much less action spread much further apart, the Cavaliers ultimately pulled it together. Hardin, while pleased the team came out on top, is looking for some improvement. 

“It was a tough day and we gutted it out and fought,” Hardin said. “I’d have liked to see more ground balls in the early innings, but we stayed with it. I’ve got to shout out our bench. They did a great job being ready to go, coming in and doing their jobs.”

The series versus Villanova this weekend spotlighted both Virginia’s improvements and what still needs work if the team wants a successful rest of the season. Consistency is going to be key in the future, and while the Cavaliers were able to gain two victories, their struggles for most of the second game indicate they have plenty of room to keep improving.

Virginia will take on Notre Dame this weekend in South Bend, Ind. for a three-game series. All three games will be streamed on ACC Network, and the first pitch of the opener will be thrown at 5 p.m. Friday. 


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