Center fielder Destiny DeBerry, an unlikely source of offensive production, was the one responsible for UNC (38-18, 14-9) retaking the lead, as she sent in a pair of runs with a single to right field.
Two batters later, junior shortstop Taylor Wike’s base hit plated two more. UNC senior designated player Kendra Lynch, who helped the Tar Heels jump out to a four-run lead in the first with a three-run home run, earned the win, as she gave up one run in 2.1 innings of relief.
Still, the Wolfpack did not quit. They pulled within one run and had the game-tying run on third base with two outs in the seventh before UNC first-year pitcher Brittany Pickett, who started the game but re-entered the contest to relieve Lynch, recorded the final out.
Looking for an answer to the Wolfpack’s offensive explosion, the Tar Heels had the bases loaded with only one out in the bottom of the fifth. But after right fielder Brittany West flew out, it looked like UNC might waste the opportunity at hand.
Instead, DeBerry made the most of the pressure-filled situation she was in. There was no waiting around for the perfect pitch, as she swung at N.C. State pitcher Peyton Silverman’s first offering.
Luckily for her and the Tar Heels, that was the right choice.
“I kind of just turned on the ball ..." DeBerry said. "Trying to get it past the infield just so my teammates could score."
Three to know
Kendra Lynch, UNC: The Tar Heel senior slugger’s first inning homer was her 21st of the season, which moves her within three of the UNC single-season record, set by Kristen Brown in 2015.
But more importantly, Lynch entered in relief of Pickett during a tumultuous fifth inning and stopped the bleeding right then and there, recording three straight outs.
“I just really wanted to make sure I could limit the damage from what they had already done and just go in to throw strikes and let my defense work for me,” Lynch said.
Destiny DeBerry UNC: Entering Friday’s game, DeBerry, a sophomore, was batting only .212 with just seven RBIs in what Papa described as “bit of a down year” for her. But she’s making the most of her postseason opportunities.
“It’s a new season and she’s brought the new season to a different spot for her,” Papa said. “You know, the last two games, I thought she’s been a different Destiny.”
Jade Caraway, N.C. State: The Wolfpack’s leadoff hitter got their rally going in the fifth with a triple to right center field and finished with three RBIs, as she went 2-for- 4 at the plate.
By the numbers
3: errors committed by N.C. State, two more than the Tar Heels.
5: Saturday’s game will mark UNC’s fifth appearance in the ACC championship game. The Tar Heels last played for a conference title in 2011, when they lost 4-1 to the Seminoles.
6: straight hits by the Wolfpack during their explosive fifth inning, two of which were back-to-back triples from Caraway and left fielder Tyler Ross.
11: wins on the season for Lynch, who has been a good No. 2 option at pitcher for UNC this season.
They said it
“I feel like this is our chance. We’ve been playing well all season and I think we’re going to come through. I think this is our time.” – DeBerry on Saturday’s title game against Florida State.
First pitch between the Seminoles and the Tar Heels is set for 2 p.m. on Saturday. A win might be a tough ask for UNC considering Florida State’s dominance against ACC foes – the Seminoles are unbeaten in conference games – but the Tar Heels do have the benefit of playing on their home field.
“There’s no pressure on us and there’s probably not a lot of pressure on them either,” Papa said. “They’ve been playing really well. They have phenomenal hitters, they have excellent pitching and we’re going to have to play really well to have a chance.”