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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC softball looks for statement win against No. 19 Michigan

Freshman Lilli Backes (22) throws a pitch during the UNC women's softball game against North Carolina A&T at Anderson Softball Stadium on February 23, 2022.

Coming off an 8-1 loss against Georgia on Saturday, the North Carolina softball team is looking to get back on track in its upcoming game against Michigan on Tuesday evening at Anderson Stadium.

The Tar Heels have lost six of their last 11 games after getting off to a 4-0 start and are looking to return to their winning ways heading into the new week. They drew a tough matchup on Saturday with the Georgia Bulldogs, who were ranked No. 13 in the nation — but Tuesday's matchup is against another ranked opponent.

Michigan is ranked No. 19 in the country and has won four of its last five games. The Wolverines head into this matchup in hopes of gaining further momentum in the win column.

Recent standout performers for the Tar Heels include redshirt sophomore utility player Kianna Jones and first-year pitcher Lilli Backes. Against N.C. A&T on Feb. 23, Jones racked up two hits, four RBIs and a home run, which helped lead the Tar Heels to a 10-2 victory over the Aggies.

In the same game, Backes pitched three innings and gave up only one hit. She also struck out five batters. Since the game against the Aggies, however, the Tar Heels have failed to score more than two runs in a game. If North Carolina hopes to get back in its own win column, standout players like Jones and Backes will have to continue playing at a high level.

The key for the Tar Heels will be strong pitching. Backes showed a lot of potential with her performance against the Aggies, though she did have a tougher game against Georgia, when she gave up five earned runs in less than three innings of work.

Backes' solid outings have been coupled with additional standout performances from fellow first-year pitcher Carlie Myrtle. Through 15 innings pitched this season, Myrtle has only given up two runs and 10 hits while striking out 21 batters. In her recent outing against Bryant on Saturday, she earned a shutout victory — giving up only two hits and recording 12 strikeouts.

The Wolverines are coming off a 14-1 bout with the Northern Kentucky Norse on Saturday. Catcher Hannah Carson and first baseman Lauren Esman stood out in a big way in the midst of this game, as they recorded four and three RBIs, respectively. Former Tar Heel Kristina Burkhardt, who graduated in May, has been a notable outfielder for the team, hitting .465 with one double thus far.

If the Tar Heels hope to keep Michigan from replicating its previous performance, they need to pitch the ball well and be prepared to match the Wolverines' potent hitting prowess.

The Tar Heels have shown that they are capable of getting their offensive attack going as they did in games against N.C. A&T and Lipscomb. North Carolina was able to score at least nine runs in each of these games, which the team might have to do once again with Michigan if the Wolverines play as well as they did against Northern Kentucky.

Despite having a record that lies just four games above .500, the Wolverines have shown recently that they have plenty of talented players that are capable of taking games out of hand in rapid fashion.

Tuesday's matchup against a ranked Michigan team should give the Tar Heels an opportunity to see how good they could become in the coming months, and with ACC play right around the corner, the game could prepare them for the challenges that lie ahead.

@dthsports |

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