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The Daily Tar Heel

Hot bats and stellar pitching get UNC softball back on track with two big wins

Kiani Ramsey team celebration
The UNC women's softball team welcomes junior outfielder Kiani Ramsey (8) to the home plate after she hit a home-run during UNC's 11-5 win over Maryland at Anderson Stadium on Sat. March 2, 2019.

A strong start to the season saw the North Carolina softball team jump out to a 5-3 record and collect two wins against Michigan, who was ranked No. 17 at the time. However, the Tar Heels have stumbled of late, going 1-5 in the six games after their dismantling of the Wolverines. 

On a three-game losing streak with a record two games below .500, UNC needed wins and needed them badly.

The victories came on day three of the Carolina Classic when the Tar Heels beat both FAU and Maryland handily in a doubleheader. The Tar Heels beat Florida Atlantic, 6-2, and toppled the Terrapins, 11-5. The wins were huge for team morale and pulled their record back to an even 8-8.

The action against FAU started slowly with both teams scoreless after five innings. In the top of the sixth, the Owls took the lead after scoring two runs. With their backs against the wall, the Tar Heels needed a big inning, or they would see their losing streak stretch to four games. UNC responded with a six-run explosion in the bottom of the sixth.

“We had some rough games,” head coach Donna Papa said. “In this first game we were down again, and then that big inning gave us our momentum and confidence back. I felt like we were swinging the bat well in practice, but not translating it to the game. After that big inning, I felt like the girls thought ‘yeah we can do this.’”

First-year Hannah George added two runs for UNC after a two-run single that put UNC up, 4-2. A couple of FAU miscues stretched the Tar Heels’ lead to four runs before the start of the seventh inning. After striking out the Owls at the top of the final inning, the game was set in stone, and the Tar Heels turned their sights to the Terrapins.

UNC kept building momentum after storming out of the gate against Maryland with a three-run second inning and a five-run third inning. Up 8-0 at the top of the fourth, it looked like the Tar Heels were potentially on the verge of a mercy rule. However, Maryland went yard on a three-run home run and tacked on two additional runs to make the game a close 8-5 heading into the fifth. 

The Tar Heels responded by holding the Terrapins scoreless in the inning and notching three more runs to extend their lead to 11-5. The two teams traded stops the rest of the way, and UNC came out victorious after the top of the seventh.

“With the way we were hitting the ball, base running and doing what we were doing, I just think we had really good confidence, momentum and energy,” Papa said. “We brought Hannah (George) in, and she did her job. We only had two innings to close, and she did her thing on the mound to finish it out.”

George has been phenomenal at the plate this season and especially on the mound. The Columbus, Georgia, native followed a career-high six strikeouts against George Washington by tallying four more against FAU in her first complete game. 

She kept her hot hand rolling in crunch time against Maryland and struck out three Terrapins in the final 3.1 innings. After a shaky start to the season, George has been improving at a rapid pace with the help of her teammates.

“What I have experienced early in the season is learning not to get down on myself,” George said. “I keep pushing through for my teammates because they have confidence in me, so I should have confidence in myself and what I have. I like showing up and doing my best, so my team can succeed.” 

With George keeping opponents off of the scoreboard, the Tar Heels tallied runs of their own with the help of a couple hot bats. However, none were more ablaze than outfielder Kiani Ramsey.

“Kiani definitely had the hottest bat tonight. She had three runs scored, went 4-4 with two RBIs and a home run,” Papa said about Ramsey's performance against Maryland.

The senior has been arguably UNC’s most reliable hitter this season with a .364 batting average and 20 hits on the year. Ramsey and George have provided a balanced mix of youth and leadership to a team welcome to both styles of play. 

As a result, the team made its much-needed return to the win column to Papa's delight.

“It was great to put two good wins together,” she said. “We hit the ball well. In the last game, we had 11 hits and 11 runs. It doesn’t get better than that.”

As long as UNC keeps its bats hot and George continues her stellar play on the mound, the Tar Heels should continue to see their win totals rise after wrapping up the Carolina Classic and preparing for a trio of games against rival Duke.

@KenjonVander

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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