One major adjustment for the Tar Heels has been coping with the loss of starting pitcher Brittany Pickett due to injury, who carried UNC to wins over the Crimson Tide and Detroit Mercy early in the season.
Despite this blow to the bullpen, it was the Tar Heels' bats that betrayed them in the low-scoring loss to the Phoenix.
Outside of the third inning — in which Destiny Middleton was able to steal home for North Carolina's lone run of the game — the Tar Heels were kept at bay by a stout Elon defense. UNC only managed five hits, a metric that Papa labelled “disappointing,” given that she thought her defense “played well enough to win.”
A gutsy performance on the mound from sophomore pitcher Hannah George kept the Tar Heels in it, giving them a chance to end non-conference play on a positive note. And with runners on first and second, senior Campbell Hutcherson turned an impressive double play to keep the deficit at a manageable 2-1 for the Tar Heels going into their final offensive outing.
Then, with two outs and two on, UNC’s Abby Settlemyre stepped up to the plate with the chance to tie or take the lead.
With everyone in Anderson Stadium on the edge of their seats, the sophomore swung hard at a 1-1 pitch, only to watch it fall harmlessly into the glove of an Elon infielder. With a potentially season-changing comeback on the line, the Tar Heels instead extended their non-conference losing streak to five games.
“If you want to compare it to something, compare it to the basketball team," George said. "We’re just going through that little rut.”
While postgame spirits were low, expectations for upcoming conference play were still as high as ever for a team that was a game away from a Super Regional appearance last year.
“I think we can beat everyone in the ACC,” George said. “We want more, and we’ve got the talent and skill, so we just have to have faith in it."
These lofty sentiments were echoed by Papa, who believes that her team can forge a new identity from losses such as these.
“We want to win the ACC, and that’s a very realistic goal,” Papa said. “Right now we have to dig down deep and find some reason why we want to be out here and get the job done.”
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