The North Carolina softball team beat Elon, 9-5, in its home opener on Wednesday night.
A walk and two hits loaded the bases early for the Phoenix, and a flyout to left field scored the first run. Senior Destiny Middleton, who has started the 2023 season with a team-high .500 batting average, had the Tar Heels’ first hit in the bottom of the first. However, North Carolina failed to gain a place on the scoreboard in the first inning.
UNC prevented Elon from extending its lead in the top of the second but with no hits in the second inning, North Carolina remained scoreless. The Phoenix bats got hot in the third, advancing them to a 5-0 lead. Fifth-year first baseman Kierston Licea got the Tar Heels on the scoreboard with a single home run in the bottom of the third.
The fourth inning was scoreless to maintain the 5-1 score. Elon had no hits in the top of the fifth, but the fifth-inning stretch brough new life to UNC, and a hard-hit single by Licea brought in a run. The Tar Heels managed to even the score as the inning progressed, resulting in a pitching change for the Phoenix that shut down the UNC offense.
North Carolina utilized its momentum to hold Elon to three up, three down in the top of the sixth. The Phoenix defense battled as well to keep the score tied heading into the final inning.
The Tar Heels held the Phoenix again in the seventh. A walk-off grand slam by redshirt freshman Isabela Emerling resulted in a 9-5 win for UNC.
Who stood out?
Licea was responsible for the first two runs for North Carolina. Her home run served as her second of the season and her RBI provided hope for the UNC offense, kick starting the offensive takeover in the bottom of the fifth.
When was it decided?
The third inning was a big one for Elon, and from that point on, UNC was playing from behind to try to catch up. The Tar Heels successfully caught up in the fifth, making this anyone’s game. What first appeared to be a locked-in win for the Phoenix ended up as a battle.
Why does it matter?
After going 2-2 at the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge, this matchup was the first for North Carolina at home and kicked off six consecutive home games. Elon defeated UNC the last time the two teams matched up and had won four of the last five in this series coming into Wednesday’s game. This win demonstrated that the Tar Heels are capable of a comeback at home against a competitive opponent.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will host Minnesota and No. 23 Maryland in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge this weekend.
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