The North Carolina softball team fell to NC State 4-2 in the first round of the ACC Tournament, effectively ending their season.
The Tar Heels took the lead in the first inning, with a little help from an errant NC State defense. Redshirt senior Kristina Burkhardt was hit by a pitch, reached third on a fielding error by the Wolfpack’s second baseman, then scored on a sacrifice fly from first-year Kiannah Pierce.
At the top of the third, UNC first-year Skyler Brooks singled on a ground ball up the middle. She reached second on a bunt from Burkhardt and scored on another error after NC State center fielder Angie Rizzie dropped a pop-up, increasing the Tar Heels’ lead to two runs.
The Wolfpack got on the board that same inning, as NC State speedster Sam Russ reached first base on a bunt, stole second, and crossed home plate on an RBI hit down the left field line from redshirt senior Tatyana Forbes.
NC State continued to score in fourth, taking the lead after UNC’s fifth-year ace Brittany Pickett was replaced by redshirt junior Katie Grace Olinger. Olinger was unable to find the strike zone, walking three consecutive batters while bringing in the two baserunners that Pickett left behind to give the Wolfpack the lead, 3-2. Olinger was then replaced by sophomore Alyssa Stanley, who allowed another run off an RBI single from Forbes before ending the frame.
Who stood out?
NC State pitcher Estelle Czech pitched a gem in her first career postseason start. The Tar Heels’ offense was stifled as the first-year tossed a complete game, striking out five and allowing no earned runs.
Brooks fared well at the plate with her single and sac-fly, and Stanley looked good pitching in relief, suggesting that the future looks bright for this pair of young Tar Heels.
When was it decided?
On the brink of elimination, Tar Heels made the game interesting in the seventh as they loaded the bases with two outs. But after a mound visit, Czech secured the victory with a fly-out to end the Tar Heels’ comeback hopes.
Why does it matter?
With the first-round elimination, UNC’s season officially comes to a close. It was a disappointing year for the Tar Heels, who ended with a losing record for a second-consecutive season.
The loss also marks the final game in Pickett’s storied college career. The three-time All-ACC first-teamer was known for her prowess as both a pitcher and a batter, ending her career with 83 wins and 36 home runs. In addition, she is UNC's all-time saves leader with 13.