But the Tar Heels, fresh off offensively powered wins against Syracuse and N.C. State, are not fearful of their next opponent.
The pressure is nonexistent, despite a title being on the line.
For starters, UNC will once again have the luxury of playing at the ballpark it’s most familiar with. Even though they’ll technically be the away team against FSU, the Tar Heels will actually be back in their normal first base dugout – home teams in the ACC Tournament have used the third base dugout.
On top of that, UNC has more or less solidified its spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels entered this week No. 34 in the RPI rankings and reaching the tournament championship has essentially eliminated the possibility of them being on the bubble entering Selection Sunday.
There’s no pressure,” UNC head coach Donna Papa said. “We’re trying not to make the game any bigger than it is. We’ve tried to treat it as a three game series like all of our ACC (series) have been. We won the first two games of this series and now we’re playing championship Sunday."
“We always call it championship Sunday, but this time it’s championship Saturday. That’s what we’ve worked for all year”
It’s also a moment Kendra Lynch has waited for her entire career.
A senior known for her power at the plate, Lynch is also the Tar Heels’ second option at pitcher. And her performance in UNC’s wild 8-7 win against N.C. State in Friday’s semifinals illustrated how important of a piece she is on this year’s team in a nutshell.
In the first inning, she belted her 21st home run of the year, a three-run shot that moves her within three of the UNC single-season record, set by Kristen Brown in 2015.
Later on, she threw 2.1 vital innings of relief — giving up just one run — as she earned her 11th win of the season.
On the season, Lynch leads UNC in batting average (.382), home runs (21) and RBIs (68) and recently broke the school’s career total bases record (141).
Now, she gets to enjoy the fruits of her labor when UNC tries to do something no other ACC team has done this year against FSU.
“This is awesome,” Lynch said. “My last game on the Carolina field, so I just think we can just keep doing our thing and just play loose, the way we’ve been playing.”
It’ll take a team effort against the Seminoles for UNC to have a chance. The Tar Heels will likely need a strong outing from pitcher Brittany Pickett, the ACC Freshman of the Year, to slow down a Florida State lineup that was averaging 6.94 runs per game, the sixth most in the country, entering Friday.
Contributions from some unlikely heroes would go a long way in generating offense against the Seminoles, too.
UNC has gotten that so far this week, as freshman Brittany West had a bases-clearing double against Syracuse, while sophomore Destiny DeBerry helped the Tar Heels regain the lead with her two-out single against the Wolfpack.
Although Papa’s team lost seven of its final eight regular season contests, the time off between that point and the start of the ACC Tournament allowed her players to start fresh. UNC’s two recent wins have restored its confidence, too, even if the Seminoles are right around the corner.
“I feel like this is our chance,” DeBerry said. “We’ve been playing well all season and I think we’re going to come through."
"I think this is our time.”