As the opposing batters walked up to home plate and got into position, they looked across the field and all they saw was Carolina Blue.
The North Carolina softball team was defending the field and wasn’t budging. Grasping the bat, each batter stared down pitcher Brittany Pickett. Pickett wound up her arm and propelled the ball to home plate.
“Strike,” motioned the umpire. This is what the Tar Heels saw all weekend on the mound.
Pickett was the starting pitcher for the Tar Heels (22-13, 11-4 ACC) in games one and two of the series against Virginia (16-21, 5-10 ACC) over the weekend — leading UNC to two 8-0 mercy rule victories.
A junior from Indian Trail, N.C., Pickett is the best weapon for UNC. She has won 13 games for the Tar Heels this season and gave up a season-best one hit against Virginia on Sunday. Over the course of her three years at UNC, Pickett has 63 wins.
Against the Cavaliers, Pickett threw 10 scoreless innings, allowing three hits across two games and striking out 12. Behind her, the Tar Heels scored 16 runs and Pickett helped propel her team to a sweep of Virginia.
North Carolina head coach Donna Papa said she was very proud of Pickett for her control against some of Virginia's best hitters.
"Brittany is, you know she’s a junior now, she’s been in so many situations, but I thought she was really on this weekend," Papa said. "I thought her pitches moved well, she did a good job locating them and if she went up, then she went down or if she went down, then she came up, so I think she really had their hitters really off balance a lot and she controlled that tempo.”
Pickett echoed Papa’s belief that an added day of practice helped the team zone in and focus on minor details. On Thursday, Pickett threw a bullpen session that simulated the Cavaliers lineup to prepare for the upcoming games, something she said allowed her to be so effective.
"Because of the rain and everything else, I was able to really focus on my bullpens," Pickett said. "And Thursday I had a really good bullpen where I was able to go through the lineup and kind of prepare for what they had in their lineup."
Another factor that has benefitted Pickett is her relationship with her catcher, sophomore Megan Dray. Pickett and Dray have been working together for two years and have become comfortable. Their partnership benefits the whole team.
“I think these past two years working together have been a lot of fun," Dray said. "I think that we all know that Pickett responds really well to having a great inning and then she really gets in the zone well... I just really love being back behind the plate with Pickett.”
At the plate on Sunday in game three, Pickett contributed on the offensive end and helped first-year Hannah George, who pitched in the final game of the series and also only gave up three hits. Pickett had two hits in that game.
“Today too, I felt really good at the plate compared to a couple weeks ago when I was hitting," Pickett said.
To cap off an already great performance in the series against Virginia, Pickett hit a home run in game three in the bottom of the third inning.
“I think it was just my strength, but she did kind of weave it over the plate and I was just able to see it really well and keep my head on it and just drive through the ball," Pickett said, "and that’s kind of what helped me hit it over, but it was really fun. I think it was just you know having fun right now that’s the most important part and being able to do that."
As the team faces off against tough competition in the next few weeks, including Florida State (No. 1 in the ACC's Atlantic Division) with a series beginning on Saturday, Pickett wants her team to have an aggressive mentality and keep their bats hot.
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