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After big ACC Tournament, softball earns first-ever NCAA bid - The Pitt News

The Pitt News

After big ACC Tournament, softball earns first-ever NCAA bid

By Dan Sostek / Sports Editor

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For the first time in program history, the Pitt softball team is going dancing.

Following a surprising run to the ACC Tournament Championship, the Panthers learned Sunday evening that they earned the school’s first-ever selection to the NCAA Tournament.

Pitt will open up tournament play in the regional round of the tournament, facing the University ofCalifornia, Berkeley on Friday at 3:30 p.m. in Ann Arbor, Mich. As the round is double elimination, the winner of the game will take on the winner of the matchup between Michigan and Oakland University. The final team standing will advance to the Super Regionals as one of the final 16 teams remaining in the tournament.

For Pitt head coach Holly Aprile, the possibility of a tournament bid became real as the season began to dwindle, with the only remaining contests being one game against Penn State, two against St. Francis and three against Louisville.

“I’d say going into our last [six] games, [we knew we had a shot at a berth],” Aprile said. “Going into that series [of games] where we were sitting, I thought that if we performed really well and didn’t lose a game, we had a shot.”

The team wasn’t able to corral an undefeated record in those final games — all at home — losing the contest to Penn State and falling in two of three to Louisville.

“I thought that was too much of a stumble, to tell you the truth,” Aprile said. “But I didn’t really discuss that with the girls.”

When the team wasn’t able to take advantage of that homestand, however, players like senior pitcher and ace Savannah King saw it as an opportunity.

“Obviously if we had won out, I’m sure it would have been clear [that we would earn an NCAA Tournament berth],” King said. “When we didn’t do as well as we wanted to in those last six games, I said, ‘Well, we better make a name for ourselves in the [ACC] Tournament.’”

That was precisely what happened, as the sixth-seeded Panthers stunned the conference, defeating No. 3 seed Notre Dame in the quarterfinals and No. 2 North Carolina in the semis, before falling to the top-seeded Florida State Seminoles in a closely contested matchup last Saturday.

“I think with how strongly we played this past weekend, we deserved to be in the [NCAA] Tournament,” King said. “That’s when I felt like, ‘Hey, I think we have a chance.’”

Despite the solid weekend, the announcement of the tournament field, which aired on ESPNU on Sunday night, was a suspenseful experience for the team. The Panthers were the penultimate bid announced.

“Being the second-to-last team picked, it really got that stress level up,” senior outfielder Carly Thea said. “They made us sweat.”

As soon as Pitt was announced, though, the anxiety quickly evaporated.

“Once we saw our name up on the screen, the entire team, the entire room just blew up,” Thea said. “It was a really, really great environment and a great experience.”

As the first Pitt softball team to earn an NCAA Tournament appearance, the group broke numerous records.

The team set a program-best win total with 35 victories, while junior infielders Shelby Pickett and Maggie Sevilla tied for the best single-season hit total with 67. As a freshman, shortstop McKayla Taylor set a single-season program high in RBI with 56. King broke her own single-season program record for wins, tallying 20 on the year.

While the team has thrived all season and has been hot of late, they aren’t overlooking the challenge of the Golden Bears they will face on Friday. Still, Aprile wants the team to stay loose, despite the stage.

“I told them yesterday, we don’t need any special efforts, anything different,” Aprile said. “We just need the same kind of consistency we’ve been bringing.”

King, who will start the game on the mound against Cal, is looking to put her coach’s words into practice in the first contest.

“I know names [of Cal players], but I don’t really know too much,” King said. “I’m just going into it personally, going on the mound and attacking each batter and pitch my game, while not really worrying too much about them.”

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After big ACC Tournament, softball earns first-ever NCAA bid