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Leah Murray drives UNC softball past USC Upstate

Pitches that rise are easier to hit when you’re 6-feet tall.

That was the mindset of Leah Murray as she stepped to the plate in the bottom of the sixth inning on Tuesday. The bases were loaded, and she had the chance to break North Carolina's 1-1 deadlock with USC Upstate.

Spartan pitcher Holly McKinnon had retired most of the Tar Heel batter with her best pitch, the riseball. Luckily for Murray, that's exactly what she expected from McKinnon.

“She was pretty consistent with her routine,” said Murray after North Carolina's 4-2 win. “We kind of knew where she was going to throw her riseball and her changeup. It was easier to plan.”

Even with her confidence at the plate, the first-year outfielder fell down 1-2 in the count. But the pressure never phased Murray, who leads UNC in strikeouts. 

With only one pitch left to end the inning, Murray decided not to think too much about what the pitch would be but rather where she was going to hit it.

“Honestly I just try to keep it simple, because it could have been anything,” she said. “They were playing so deep it could have easily been a ground ball.”

Murray didn’t hit a ground ball. With the count at 2-2, Murray, a left-handed hitter, drove the ball into right field over the head of the Spartans' right fielder. She put her head down and hustled to second base. When she looked up, the rest of the bases were clear. The Tar Heels now led 4-1.

For Murray’s three-run double to come late in the at-bat didn’t surprise Coach Donna Papa.

“We talk a lot about being disciplined and work a lot about pitch recognition,” Papa said. “Look at Leah as an example. She had two strikes on her … she did a great job of controlling her at-bat.”

The late-game heroics from Murray finally gave Tar Heels' pitcher Kendra Lynch the run support she had been waiting for all game.

“It definitely is the boost I need to go in and finish the seventh,” Lynch said. “It makes pitching a little easier.”

While Lynch would have preferred leading earlier in the game, Papa said she prefers taking the lead late.

“When you score late, that’s the best,” Papa said. “You know, in the sixth inning we score and then all we have to do is shut them down for a half inning.”

Murray’s sixth-inning double might come as a surprise to most when they see her batting ninth in the Tar Heels' batting order. But at the end of the day, her height was more important than her spot in the lineup.

“Leah is a nice, tall target," Papa said, "So maybe some of those riseballs weren’t as much of a rise-ball for her.”

@Evan_Chronis

sports@dailytarheel.com

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