“I know we’re going to continue to play,” head coach Donna Papa said. “I’m pretty confident we should be going to postseason, even though we didn’t win the automatic (bid). I think with our performance here and then with our RPI, we should be considered or should be going to postseason.”
Assuming the Tar Heels make the NCAA Tournament, they’ll be playing with a renewed confidence in themselves.
After losing seven of their final eight regular season games, Papa’s players went nearly two weeks without playing a game and had exams to focus on. The idle period allowed for more individual instruction and player development time than the season usually allows for.
As it turned out, that was a good thing. UNC’s offense looked recharged; North Carolina scored 15 runs over the course of its first two ACC Tournament games against Syracuse and N.C. State.
Perhaps most telling was the Tar Heels’ performance against the Seminoles. Although the end result was a loss, there were large stretches of Saturday’s game in which UNC looked like it belonged on the same field as the FSU team.
Papa said she didn’t think her team looked intimidated at all, and much of that was because Pickett was in the circle.
As ACC Freshman of the Year, Pickett would not have received much blame had she struggled against the Seminoles. Already a workhorse for UNC so early in her college career, she was making her third start in as many days and had to deal with arm soreness while facing a Seminole batting order that included eight batters with a .300-plus batting average.
But outside of a two-run fourth inning and a two-run sixth inning — in which she was hurt by a costly fielding error by center fielder Destiny DeBerry — Pickett more than held her own against one of the toughest offenses a pitcher can come across in college softball.
“Unfortunately, two of them got really good hits," she said, "but I think overall I did pretty well."
Moving forward, Papa hopes Pickett and the rest of her players can take with them the self-belief gained from their run to the ACC title game.
“Honestly, sometimes you can be really depressed after a loss or really down,” she said. “I’m disappointed, but not like ‘oh my God, this is the end of the world’ because I think the girls gained so much from this and this should propel them into regionals.”
Shifflett, who played a big role in UNC's recent offensive resurgence, agreed.
“It gives us some momentum knowing that we can play with these upper teams and that we’re a good team,” she said. “And that Brittany is a good pitcher and we can hit good pitching.”