Despite winning 10 straight games entering this weekend, No. 21 North Carolina faced an ACC softball foe it has struggled against in recent years: Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets had won nine of the last 10 matchups between the two teams.
But after encouragement from coach Donna Papa to focus on executing the little things, the Tar Heels did just that in a 2-0 series sweep — the first sweep of the Yellow Jackets since 2008.
“Champions don’t do extraordinary things; they do ordinary things well and consistently,” Papa said. “So I told them not to read the name Georgia Tech and panic, but to just go out, play and stay in their comfort zones by doing these ordinary things.”
In spite of going scoreless in the first two innings of the series opener, the UNC offense received a surprising spark from the bat of freshman pitcher Lauren Walker in the bottom of the third.
With two outs and a runner on third base, Papa brought in Walker to pinch hit for junior Tisha Mahon. Walker recorded an RBI single, giving UNC a 1-0 lead.
After UNC scored another run in the bottom of the fifth on an RBI sac fly by senior Kelsey Green, Georgia Tech quickly tied the game at a score of 2-2 in the top of the sixth with solo home runs from freshman first baseman Karly Fullem and sophomore catcher Alysha Rudnik.
The tie held until the bottom of the seventh when Papa decided to go to her bench yet again and bring in junior second baseman Elisha Elliott to pinch hit for Mahon.
With one out, a runner on second base and the game on the line, Elliot delivered a walk-off RBI single through the middle to lift UNC to a 3-2 game one win.
“It’s great to know that (Papa) has that kind of trust in me to, in that situation, pull me off the bench to pinch hit,” Elliot said. “It really means a lot and shows that she sees I’ve been working hard.”
As light rain began to fall at the start of game two, the bad weather seemed to take the life out of UNC. Georgia Tech jumped out to an early 3-0 lead after three innings.
Papa was forced to make two pitching changes after sophomore starting pitcher Ashley Bone surrendered back-to-back RBI doubles in the first inning. Sophomore Sara Buchholz, who came in to relieve Bone, gave up a solo homer and single in the top of the third.
With no outs in the third, sophomore Lori Spingola entered the game for Buchholz and calmed the Tar Heel defense by retiring three consecutive batters.
UNC erupted in the bottom of the fifth with five runs off four hits, including an RBI single from Walker, who Papa entrusted to pinch hit for the second time in two games.
“You go by what players have done in practice through the week, and we decided to go with Walker because she’s just been hitting the ball very well lately,” Papa said.
Despite giving up a solo homer to the first batter she faced in the top of the seventh, Spingola and the Tar Heel defense ended the game with a double play to take a 6-4 game two victory — a game that would ultimately decide the 2-0 series sweep after Sunday’s finale was canceled due to rain.
“We’ve never won a series against Georgia Tech, so that alone was big,” Elliot said. “I think everybody played this weekend for our seniors, because we wanted to go out big for them.”
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