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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC softball drops game one of series to No. 6 Virginia Tech, 10-0

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UNC third baseman/short stop and junior Destiny Middleton swings at a pitch during UNC's home game against the University of Connecticut on Sunday, March 6, 2022. UNC picked up an 8-7 win as part of the Carolina Classic softball tournament.

The UNC softball team (16-11, 2-2 ACC) was mercy-ruled by No. 6 Virginia Tech (19-3, 7-0 ACC) in a 10-0 shutout on Friday night in Blacksburg.

What happened?

After striking out UNC’s first three batters to start the game, Virginia Tech’s offense got to work immediately in the bottom of the first inning. After a stand-up triple from leadoff hitter Kelsey Brown, sophomore infielder Cameron Fagan walked to put runners on the corners for the Hokies. A sacrifice fly from sophomore outfielder Emma Ritter scored Brown, putting the Hokies up 1-0 after the first inning.

In the bottom of the second inning, the flood gates were opened. Virginia Tech scored six runs on six hits, the most notable of those being a a grand slam from Brown and an RBI single from junior infielder Kelsey Bennett. Ritter tacked on the sixth run of the inning as she crossed the plate on a passed ball, putting the Hokies up 7-0 heading into the third inning.

Virginia Tech continued to pile on runs in the next inning, scoring three runs off of two hits in the bottom of the third. After graduate outfielder Darby Trull scored on a fielder’s choice to first base, Brown scored on a groundout by graduate infielder Ally Repko. A single from Ritter scored Fagan for the tenth run of the game, and gave the Hokies what would end up being their final score of 10-0.

Who stood out? 

Virginia Tech’s ace, senior pitcher Keely Rochard, was dominant from the start of Friday’s game, striking out UNC’s first eight batters. Rochard’s spin rate and range of pitches proved to be a problem for the Tar Heels, as her change-up and riseball were a lethal combination throughout the game. She pitched the entire game, and held the Tar Heels scoreless with 12 strikeouts and two hits allowed.

For North Carolina, junior third baseman Destiny Middleton and sophomore middle infielder Skyler Brooks were the clear standouts. Both players singled, in the third and fourth innings respectively, and recorded the only hits on the game for the Tar Heels.

When was it decided?

While Virginia Tech’s explosive second inning gave the Hokies a definitive early lead in the game, UNC still had a chance to hang in and play all seven innings. However, after a controversial call at the plate that ruled Trull safe on a throw from first base, Virginia Tech put themselves ahead by eight runs. This met the margin for a run rule in NCAA softball (eight run margin after five innings), effectively deciding the game. 

The Tar Heels allowed two more runs after this, giving the Hokies a 10-0 lead after the third inning. In the next two innings UNC failed to produce any runs, allowing Virginia Tech to pull off the win in five innings of work.

Why does it matter?

While UNC’s Friday night loss to a highly-ranked Virginia Tech team may seem like a game to toss out and forget, it should provide lots of learning opportunities for the Tar Heels. Virginia Tech’s batters were very successful at the plate with two strikes due to their ability to adjust and shorten their swings. Moving forward, UNC’s bullpen needs to be able to mix up the pitch selection in these situations, and take advantage of being ahead in the count.

Furthermore, 11 of Rochard’s 12 strikeouts in Friday’s game saw UNC’s batters go down swinging. Moving forward, North Carolina needs to show more patience at the plate and lay off of riseballs late in the count.

When do they play next?

The Tar Heels will be back in action in Blacksburg tomorrow to compete in the second game of their series at 2 p.m. on Saturday. 

@shelbymswanson

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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Shelby Swanson

Shelby Swanson is the 2023-24 sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as an assistant sports editor and senior writer. Shelby is a junior pursuing a double major in media and journalism and Hispanic literatures and cultures.