Cavalier Corner

June 2012

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S BY DREW GOODMAN OFTBALL IS A SPORT where a program's fortunes can be changed with one great pitcher. Enter Melanie Mitchell. Mitchell had several colle- giate offers from established programs, but she saw a chance to create a legacy at the University of Virginia. "The opportunity to create a great pro- DIFFERENCE MAKER gram [at Virginia] was there," Mitchell said. "I didn't want to go to a program where I would have to sit around for a few years to get my opportunity. I wanted to make an impact right away." play. The Cavaliers won their first six ACC contests, including a sweep over archrival Virginia Tech. Mitchell was named ACC Third-Year Pitcher Melanie Mitchell Embraced The Opportunity To Help Build UVa's Softball Program Mitchell started her first career game at Virginia against UNC Wilmington and struck out 12 batters, leading the Cavaliers to a 9-0 win. Despite the lopsided victory, Mitchell noticed several glaring differences between high school and college softball. She noted the mental game and precision of where the pitches are thrown as an adjustment. "In high school, you can throw it by peo- ple and no one knows the wiser," Mitchell said. "At this level, you have to hit your cor- ners, you have to have off-speed pitches and you have to get in the batter's mind." A native of White Plains, Md., Mitchell was a standout pitcher at McDonough High School. She capped off her illustrious career in 2009 by leading the Rams to a state cham- pionship. Mitchell was 19-0 with an ERA of 0.00 and 315 strikeouts in 133 innings en route to Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year honors in her final season. During her rookie campaign at UVa, Mitchell and the Cavaliers were tested early and often. Virginia traveled to Baton Rouge, La., for the Tiger Classic in the second week of the season, and the Hoos lost three straight to some of the nation's elite. The breakthrough came on the fourth day of com- petition when Virginia upset fourth-ranked Michigan 2-1. Mitchell pitched a complete game, allowing just one run and three hits. 18 ◆ CAVALIER CORNER Pitcher of the Week twice, and led the confer- ence in innings pitched (2862 ⁄3 ). She earned first-team All-ACC honors and helped lead the Cavaliers to a 13-7 mark in the ACC, which was good for a second-place finish. "In previous years, we were in the bottom two spots of the league," Mitchell said. "To show that we could compete for the top spot in the ACC was quite an accomplishment." Virginia earned its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament during that breakout 2010 season. The Cavaliers beat Louisville in the opening game, before dropping deci- sions to Tennessee and Louisville. Mitch- ell tied the school record with 27 wins, and posted a 2.86 ERA and 295 strikeouts (which ranks No 2 on UVa's all-time single- season list). Mitchell entered 2011 looking to build off the historic season. Virginia had a strong month of February, which included upset wins over 11th-ranked Hawaii and 13th- ranked Oregon. However, things took a turn for the worse for Mitchell and the Cavaliers March 12 against Syracuse. Midway through the game, Mitchell pulled her right oblique abdominal muscle. The injury severely af- fected the right-hander, sidelining her for two weeks. "It was pretty frustrating," Mitchell said. "I threw every game in high school, so to sit One month later, Mitchell led the Cavaliers to an upset victory over second-ranked Ari- zona. She said the tough non-conference schedule showed that the Cavaliers could play with anyone, and gave them confidence going into the stretch run of the season. "You grow up watching all these kids and everyone says that these kids are at this high of a level," Mitchell said. "To see that we could compete with them and beat them was a great thing and a great feeling for us." UVa rode the momentum into conference back and watch somebody else have to share the load was a little unnerving." Mitchell returned to action two weeks later against Boston College, but felt the lingering effects of the injury, still had dif- ficulty throwing the ball and was sidelined again. Mitchell could never recapture the magic of her rookie year while battling through injury for the majority of the season. She finished with a 17-17 record, a 3.29 ERA and 258 whiffs in 2252 ⁄3 innings. The hurler's subpar — for her — season resulted in the Cavaliers backsliding and finishing with a 24-31 overall mark. After fully recovering in the offseason, Mitchell returned to her role as the everyday starter this year. The third-year has become an expert in the mental aspect of the game. Often times, she uses her off-speed pitches to throw the batters off. Mitchell's overall knowledge of the game and her opponents has allowed her to re-establish herself as a force to be reckoned with on the mound. "I get ahead of batters a lot faster now," Mitchell said. "I try to get to two strikes right away and put them away. I don't want to play with any batters that I know I can get out." Mitchell compiled a 19-12 record, one save, a 1.39 ERA (second in the ACC) and 273 strikeouts (third in the ACC) in 2062 ⁄3 in- nings during the 2012 regular season, help- ing UVa to a 26-24 mark (8-13 ACC). Mitchell has high expectations for herself and for the UVa program moving forward. "Going into next year, we need to get wins early in the season that are impactful," Mitchell said. "We missed a lot of opportu- nities this year, but next year we need to get some of those big wins." ◆ innings during this year's regular season. PHOTO BY MATT RILEY/COURTESY UVA Mitchell rebounded from an injury-plagued 2011 campaign to notch a 19-12 record with a 1.39 ERA and 273 strikeouts in 2062 ⁄3

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