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Softball: Virginia gets invite to NCAA Tournament for first time since 2010 season

Chris Graham
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Virginia, on the heels of a 32-18 season in 2024, has earned an invite to the NCAA Tournament, the first for UVA Softball since 2010.

The Cavaliers will be the #2 seed in the four-team Knoxville Regional, which will be hosted by Tennessee (40-10), the #3 national seed and SEC regular-season champ.

UVA opens the double-elimination regional against the #3 seed, Miami (Ohio), the MAC champion in 2024, at noon ET on Friday.

Dayton (33-19), the A-10 champ, is the #4 seed.

“We’ve been anticipating this for a week or so, and are really excited,” said UVA coach Joanna Hardin, who last took a team to the NCAA Tournament in 2016, when she was the head coach at McNeese State.

Opening game: Miami

Miami leads the nation in homers, by a lot, with 157 home runs in 2024 – for context, Virginia Tech was second nationally, with 113 – and the lineup features the nation’s top two home-run hitters, Karli Spaid (36) and Jenna Golembiewski (28), and Kate Kobayashi (20), who is tied for sixth, and Holly Blaska (19), who is tied for 10th.

The Redhawks were 26-1 in the MAC and 2-5 in games against Power 5 teams, with the one standing out there being the 9-7 loss to defending national champ Oklahoma on March 1, in which Spaid went deep twice, and Golembiewski, Blaska and Allie Cummins also launched homers for Miami in a game that the Sooners won with a walk-off homer in the bottom of the seventh.

Miami’s top pitchers are Madilyn Reeves (22-3, 3.89 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 125K/86BB in 155.0 IP) and Addy Jarvis (18-1, 3.93 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 77K/40BB in 116.2 IP).

The top seed: Tennessee

Karlyn Pickens (19-6, 1.26 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 186K/39BB in 156.0 IP) was the SEC Pitcher of the Year, and there’s not a lot of difference between her and #2 starter Payton Gottshall (19-4, 1.25 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 150K/26BB in 134.0 IP).

Outfielder Kiki Malloy (.355 BA/1.161 OPS) led the Vols with 12 homers and stole 24 bases at the top of the lineup, and Malloy led the SEC in runs (59).

This is a Tennessee program that is used to winning. Tennessee has advanced to the postseason every year since 2004 and has hosted 19 straight regional rounds in Knoxville.

The #4 seed: Dayton

Dayton will be making its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament, in head coach Cara Clark’s 17th season.

The strength of the team is its pitching, with three starters – Izzy Kemp (11-6, 1.77 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 133K/31BB in 110.2 IP), Sarah Bailitz (8-7, 1.96 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 86K/34BB in 107.1 IP) and Haven Dwyer (14-5, 2.98 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 67K/47BB in 124.2 IP) – splitting the duties.

Finally

Hardin’s teams put up losing records in each of her first five seasons at UVA, before beginning a slow turnaround in 2022, going 28-26 overall and 13-11 in the ACC, ahead of a 30-22 finish in 2023.

There was some question by some observers about Hardin’s future with the program, but the school signed her to a three-year contract extension last summer, with Athletics Director Carla Wiliams saying that the 2022 and 2023 seasons “have given us a glimpse of what is to come.”

Hardin, on Sunday night, after the NCAA Tournament field was announced, allowed herself a moment to reflect on the accomplishment.

“I’m happy for this group of seniors, who entered college under all the irregularities around COVID and get to close their careers playing for a national championship in the NCAA Tournament,” Hardin said. “We enjoyed our few minutes together tonight, but know it’s time to go back to work. We’re excited about the opportunity ahead of us and getting to represent the ACC.”

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].