In their first game of the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in the Lubbock Regional, the North Carolina baseball team (28-25, 18-18 ACC) knocked off the second-seeded UCLA Bruins (35-19, 18-12 PAC-12), 5-4.
The Bruins got things rolling in the bottom of the first inning, scoring the first run of the game off of an RBI double from junior Matt McLain to give UCLA the early lead. After falling behind the Bruins early, the Tar Heels responded in the top of the second, tying things up at 1-1 off of an RBI groundout to second base from first-year Will Stewart that scored senior Brett Centracchio.
Stewart struck again in the top of the fourth, driving in two more Tar Heel runs off of a single to center field to give the Tar Heels a 3-1 lead. In the bottom of the sixth, McLain also delivered again for the Bruins, driving in his second run of the day off of a sacrifice fly to center field to cut the Tar Heel lead to 3-2.
After seeing his team’s lead cut to one, sophomore Danny Serretti came up big in the top of the seventh, driving in two runs off of his ninth home run of the season to give the Tar Heels their largest lead of the day, 5-2.
Five runs would be all for the Tar Heels, but the Bruins grabbed two more runs in the seventh and the eighth to make things interesting heading into the ninth at 5-4. The Bruins had a prime opportunity in the bottom of the inning, but senior Gage Gillian came up big with his fourth save of the season — shutting down the UCLA bats with two strikeouts in the frame to give UNC a one-run victory.
Who stood out?
Stewart, who hadn't played in a game since March, led the charge for the Tar Heels at the plate, driving in three runs off of two key hits. Sophomore Danny Serretti also came up big for the Tar Heels at the plate with his two-run homer in the seventh that ended up being the deciding factor in a one-run victory.
On the mound, Tar Heel ace Austin Love delivered with another stellar performance to give his team a chance, throwing 6.2 innings of three-run ball to go along with nine strikeouts.
When was it decided?
In a close contest between two storied programs, the game was decided late. Serretti’s two-run homer in the seventh was the deciding factor, but after seeing his team’s lead shrink to one heading into the ninth, Gillian closed the door with two strikeouts to secure the 5-4 victory for UNC.
Why does it matter?
With the win Friday night, the third-seeded Tar Heels vaulted themselves into the winner’s bracket in Lubbock. In a double elimination format, the opening game victory was huge for the Tar Heels who were able to capitalize off of their ace Austin Love’s start and build off of the momentum created by last Friday’s victory against rival N.C. State.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will be back in action Saturday for their second game of the Lubbock Regional against the host, Texas Tech. First pitch is scheduled for 9 p.m.