The No. 8 seed North Carolina baseball team (37-19, 15-15 ACC) defeated the No. 4 Fighting Irish (35-14, 16-11 ACC), 7-2, on Saturday to advance to the ACC Championship title game.
Starting the game was a scoreless first inning riddled with singles and walks from both programs, but UNC fought offensively to take the lead first.
In the top of the second inning, sophomore infielder Colby Wilkerson reached first base due to a fielder’s choice, which allowed senior Mikey Madej to sneak across home plate for the Diamond Heels’ first run of the game.
Thanks to sophomore pitcher Will Sandy on the mound, Notre Dame was held to a score of zero until a homer flew into left field to tie the game in the bottom of the third.
The next couple of innings turned out to be a pitcher’s duel, as the score sat at 1-1 until yet another home run was hit out of the park by the Fighting Irish in the bottom of the fifth inning, giving them the lead.
Thankfully, the pitching of senior Gage Gillian, who entered the game in the bottom of the third inning, put a stop to Notre Dame even after two bombs were sent out of the park.
North Carolina’s offense was quick to fight back after a double by sophomore Hunter Stokely allowed Madej to run home once again and tie the game.
With no runs from either team, things looked hopeless for the Diamond Heels.
With the bases loaded in the top of the eighth inning, the Fighting Irish struck out both sophomore infielder Johnny Castagnozzi and redshirt junior outfielder Angel Zarate.
With two outs, a single was hit through the right side by sophomore third baseman Mac Horvath and brought Madej home for the third time in this game, making the score 3-2 in the Diamond Heels’ favor.
Next up at bat was junior shortstop Danny Serretti, who doubled to left field and put two more runs on the board for UNC, stretching the team’s lead to three over Notre Dame.
The bottom of the eighth inning was done in the blink of an eye, as sophomore pitcher Davis Palermo squashed the Fighting Irish’s scoring hopes.
At the top of the ninth inning with two outs, a very pivotal point in the game, sophomore infielder Johnny Castagnozzi came up to bat and hit a bloop single to bring in two more runs for UNC, making the score 7-2.
Palermo stayed strong on the mound to wave goodbye to the Fighting Irish after a hard-fought thriller of a game for the Tar Heels.
Who stood out?
Although the defense and pitchers on the mound played a crucial part in this game, as they have throughout the entire ACC Championship, Madej was the white-hot star of this matchup.
During Saturday's game, he was the only Tar Heel to score multiple times for UNC and dominated the box. Going 4-for-4 on Saturday, Madej is now 6-for-11 in the ACC Championship.
When was it decided?
In such a back-and-forth matchup, the game wasn’t decided until a critical single by Horvath sparked a scoring run for North Carolina in the eighth inning.
This hit may have brought in only one run, but its momentum was critical to the Diamond Heels' five-run effort in the game's final two innings.
Why does it matter?
Not only does this defeat punch UNC a ticket to the ACC Championship title game, but extends the team’s winning streak to six games.
After ending their regular season with a sweep of the Florida State Seminoles, the Tar Heels have shined in the postseason and been dominant against every ACC opponent they have faced since then.
When do they play next?
North Carolina will advance to the title matchup of the ACC Championship to face either N.C. State or Pitt on Sunday, with the game set to start at 12 p.m.