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Led by strong pitching, UNC softball wins ACC series opener against Duke

Brittany Pickett Michigan
Brittany Pickett (28) pitches against Michigan on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019 in Anderson Stadium.

DURHAM — Following a 4-2 win on Friday, the North Carolina softball team played a doubleheader on Saturday against Duke, splitting games with their rival, but winning the series to open the conference season.

The Tar Heels (11-9, 2-1 ACC) began the day with hot bats, dominating Duke by a score of 8-1. Immediately following that game, North Carolina fell to the Blue Devils, with the final score being 2-1. 

“We won the series, that’s good, but I’m very greedy," head coach Donna Papa said. "I want to sweep the series, because when you have the opportunity to sweep, that’s what you need to do, and that’s what you need to do to be great.”

While the hitting may have been inconsistent, from 12 hits in the first match of the doubleheader to three in the second, one aspect of the Tar Heels’ game stayed solid throughout – their pitching. 

North Carolina’s ace, junior Brittany Pickett, went for all seven innings in the first game, throwing 112 total pitches. After spending two weeks out with an injury, she came out eager to pick up where she left off. 

Pickett was able to show off her impressive pitching early, getting out of a jam in the fourth inning with the bases loaded. She only let up one run before forcing the next batter to pop out in the infield and retiring the next hitter on a ground ball, escaping the tough situation and showing again why she is so valuable to the North Carolina team.

“It was all smiles,” Picket said. “A little adrenaline, but I think I played really well and was able to get strikes on batters, and mostly execute pitches the way I wanted to.”

Papa was also very pleased with the performance of her star. 

“We had Brittany Pickett back for the first time in two weeks and I thought she did an outstanding job going seven innings,” she said. “Then, in the second game, she came in relief and she really shut them down. To have Brittany back and throwing like she did was really positive for us.”

While Pickett was sidelined, first-year pitcher Hannah George was the main recipient of extra time on the mound. 

George pitched four innings in the second-game loss, giving up two runs to the Blue Devils. She also pitched the full seven innings during Friday’s win. 

"The experience that George got with Brittany out was a silver lining for us, because she was able to be in these situations and perform well,” Papa said. 

George felt like she grew as a pitcher with Pickett out.

“It definitely helped me grow a lot," George said. "The first couple weeks of college softball was a bit rocky, but these past couple weeks have allowed me to better shape my skills and learn a different ball game.”

Aside from not completing the sweep, Papa was pleased with the performance of her team, and is confident in her pitching moving forward. 

“We have two really strong pitchers, and we have a couple others that can eat up some innings and can give us some different looks and play well.” 

@andrewmontross

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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