Brittany Pickett once again proved why she is the North Carolina softball team's most valuable player, leading the Tar Heels (26-21, 13-5 ACC) to a 4-3 victory over East Carolina.
With the game tied 3-3 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Pickett stepped into the batter’s box with an 0-2 count. After striking out in her previous two at-bats, she was facing the possibility of a three-strikeout night.
Pickett watched the next two pitches go by for balls, evening the count at 2-2. On the next pitch, she launched a home run to dead-center field, giving UNC the decisive 4-3 lead. It was the game-winning run.
The Indian Trail, N.C., native put on a show against the Pirates on offense and on the rubber. She pitched a complete game while holding ECU to only three runs and striking out five.
“Brittany Pickett, she came through,” associate head coach Mary Jo Firnbach said. “She’s just been a workhorse. She’s steady. She’s confident. She gives us a chance to win every time she’s on the mound, and that’s our philosophy throughout the rest of the season.”
In the victory over ECU, Pickett delivered her fourth complete game in her last six starts. She has been heavily relied on by the Tar Heels in 2018 as the team’s primary pitcher. As a result, she leads all ACC pitchers with 249 innings pitched and has the second most wins in NCAA softball this season with 24 — one behind Michigan pitcher Meghan Beaubien.
“I think I’m used to it,” Pickett said. “I really think that the first part of the season helped me build to where I am now.”
Pickett is undoubtedly the most-used pitcher on the team. All other Tar Heel pitchers have combined to pitch just 69.2 innings on the season.
While Pickett has become accustomed to pitching such a large workload, she credits her off-season training for preparing her.
“During the off-season, we do a lot of swimming,” Pickett said. “We just do a lot of working out, extra conditioning and stuff to build our endurance. We do speed circuits. That helps us maintain a certain speed.”
Her rest in between games has given her time to recover.
“Even in preseason and in between games, I’m resting," she said. "I’m not really throwing at practice unless I need to. But those are my days off, and I really use them wisely."
At the plate, Pickett has also come through for her team. Although early season struggles led to her being temporarily removed from the batting order, she's found a way to turn around, having hit a home run in consecutive games. Her four home runs on the season rank second on the team.
“She just wasn’t confident in swinging,” Firnbach said. “She’s not swinging the bat, period. If you don’t swing the bat and have the bat off your shoulder, you’re not going to hit. You might as well go up there without a bat.”
Firnbach said that the sophomore has worked to be more aggressive at the plate. Similar to her pitching style, Pickett is focusing on attacking the ball the same way she attacks hitters from the mound.
In her first at-bat, Pickett attacked the ball, but she couldn’t seem to make contact. Her next plate appearance ended with the same result — a strikeout— this time looking. She wasn’t going to let her third at-bat end the same way.
“I got off the plate a little bit because I knew they were jamming me inside,” Pickett said. “That’s where they were beating me all game. I took a step off, and she threw me a first strike. So I knew what it looked like. Once she threw it again, I was able to execute the pitch and take it.”
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