Despite a 1-3 showing at the ACC-Big 10 Challenge, the No. 25 North Carolina softball team is optimistic looking into the future of this season.
The Tar Heels have faced a difficult early season schedule, going head-to-head with No. 9 Alabama and No. 11 Michigan twice and No. 5 Florida State once through the first ten games of the 2020 campaign. With this tough stretch behind them, UNC has maintained a .500 winning percentage and a top-25 ranking as a less demanding portion of competition approaches.
“That kind of competition shows you your strengths and your weaknesses,” head coach Donna Papa said. “That’s the difference between making that next step up, and that move to get where you want to be is capitalizing on other people’s mistakes.”
But in a weekend that saw North Carolina play Michigan and Wisconsin twice each, an inability to capitalize on opportunities led the Tar Heels to losses that could have gone either way.
In a Friday afternoon match-up against the Wolverines, the Tar Heels dropped a difficult game with Michigan scoring off of a seventh-inning single to take the win, 4-3. Saturday was a mixed bag for the Tar Heels, who were shut out of the first game of the day against Michigan, 4-0, and came back later that afternoon to pull out a closely-fought 4-3 win against Wisconsin.
In Sunday’s 8-3 loss to the Badgers, the final game of the weekend, UNC came up short in a crucial sixth inning. With a one-run Tar Heel lead going into that inning, three straight batters got on base to start a frame that would result in six runs for the Badgers.
North Carolina stopped the bleeding only after Wisconsin’s Kayla Konwent blasted a four-run home run that spelled the end for the Tar Heels. Papa, now in her 35th season at the helm for UNC, was confident about the season going forward despite the adversity her team has faced this year.
“I feel like we’ve been challenged early, and it’s going to make us better,” Papa said. “There’s a lot of good things, there’s a lot of good pieces with this team. It’s a grind of a season.”
This positive sentiment was mirrored by a UNC lineup that will look to gain experience with only one senior member in Sunday’s lineup.