Donna Papa has the same message for her team each time.
“It’s a game of inches.”
But for her and her North Carolina softball team, the ruler was in favor of visiting No. 6 Alabama (39-8) on Friday night. In front of a record-shattering crowd of 2,048 fans inside Anderson Stadium, the Crimson Tide held off the upset-hungry Tar Heels (22-23) to hand UNC a 4-3 loss.
Alabama wasted no time showing why it’s one of the best softball programs in the country, hitting back-to-back home runs in the top of the first inning to take an early 3-0 lead. But the Tar Heels refused to give up that easily.
UNC answered with two runs of its own in the bottom of the first inning. After loading the bases with no outs, The Tar Heels got on the board thanks to an RBI single from redshirt sophomore first baseman Jenna Kelly. Junior catcher Amber Parrish followed with a line drive to left field that looked like it could produce multiple runs but had to settle for an RBI sacrifice fly after an impressive diving catch from Crimson Tide left fielder Kallie Kase.
Alabama tacked on another run in the top of the second inning on a ball hit to left field. This time, the diving attempt from UNC senior leftfielder Amy Nece came up just short, allowing Danae Hays to score and put the Tide up 4-2.
Again, the Tar Heels refused to die. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the third inning, Parrish delivered again with an RBI single to left field, cutting the Alabama lead to 4-3.
After the run in the third inning, the bats went relatively quiet on both sides. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, Nece kept UNC’s chances alive with a single through the right side, bringing sophomore shortstop Kristen Brown to the plate. Brown gave it a ride to right field, but it didn’t have the juice to get over the fence and proved to be the final out for the Tar Heels.
“I was really proud of the way we competed. We were in it until the last pitch,” Papa said. “Kristen Brown, I wouldn’t want anyone else up in that situation and she just missed it by that much. I think she had a great at-bat and you know, with a little wind maybe it flies out of here.”
The disappointment on the Tar Heel players’ faces was evident, but Nece said there were plenty of positives to take away from the hard-fought loss.
“Today gave us the opportunity to see that we can beat anybody, and you can put us on the field with anybody,” Nece said. “We came up a run short and everyone felt it. I think we’re just excited to know we can take them.”
Papa certainly isn’t satisfied with the loss, but at least she knows that her players are listening.
“Really, this game is about inches,” Parrish said. “One inch this way, one inch that way, one inch over the fence.”
But in the end, the Tar Heels were just a few short.
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