The UNC softball team (2-1) fell to No. 25 Ole Miss (1-0) Friday evening, 6-1, dropping its first game of the season in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
After pitching 3.1 hitless innings in relief on Thursday, Lilli Backes returned to the circle and continued to dominate. She set the Rebels down 1-2-3 in the first inning, including two strikeouts.
Kiersten Licea struck first in the bottom of the inning, smashing a rise ball over the left fielder’s head and inside the foul pole. With her teammates surrounding her, she jumped onto home plate and delivered the Tar Heels an early advantage.
The Rebels would answer right back in the second inning, though. With runners on first and third, Keila Kamoku ripped a two-out single past the reaching glove of Backes and tied the game at 1. Backes escaped any further damage by inducing a pop-out to Abby Settlemyre at second base.
She found herself in similar trouble in the third. A double, walk, and hit by pitch gave the Rebels bases loaded, but Backes evaded the jam with a weak grounder to Settlemyre. The offense could not back her up, though, as the Licea home run remained its only hit through three innings.
Fielding woes led to the Rebels’ second run of the game in the fourth. After stealing second base, Jalia Lassiter attempted to steal third. Catcher Annie Kate Dalton’s throw tipped off the outstretched arm of third baseman Destiny Middleton, and Lassiter scurried home to singlehandedly put Ole Miss on top.
Another error in the fifth doubled the Rebels’ lead. Attempting to field a bunt, pitcher Carlie Myrtle threw the ball into right field and allowed the runner to reach second. Mya Stevenson converted on the mishap later in the inning with an RBI single, making the score 3-1.
The Tar Heels' offense went down in short order again in the fifth. Alex Brown struck out to end the frame, and Ole Miss pitcher Catelyn Riley left the circle with a roar of confidence.
The floodgates opened in the sixth for the Rebel offense. They added three more runs to its total and stretched the lead to five. The Tar Heels could not build a comeback and lost 6-1.
Who stood out?
Despite a high pitch count limiting her to just three innings of work, Backes performed well in her first start of the season. She restrained the high-powered Ole Miss offense to just one run and struck out three Rebel batters looking.
Licea was the sole bright spot in an otherwise lackluster performance from the offense. Her no-doubt first-inning bomb to left field matched her season total from last year and provided the Tar Heels a brief lead.
When was it decided?
Myrtle’s fielding error and Stevenson’s ensuing RBI single seemed to put the game away in the fifth inning. A 3-1 deficit was too large a hill to climb for an offense that could only produce three hits and struck out four times. The three-run onslaught in the sixth further cemented the Rebel victory.
Why does it matter?
After sweeping a doubleheader on Thursday, the Tar Heels entered this contest with a chance to make a statement. This matchup was the first of two top-25 games UNC will play this weekend, and the loss highlighted many of the issues that have plagued the team for years.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will play their final game in the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge tomorrow night against No. 3 Oklahoma State.
@dthsports | email@example.com
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.