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The Daily Tar Heel

North Carolina softball opens its season with wins in Puerto Vallarta College Challenge

The UNC softball team celebrates at the dugout during the game against Florida State at Anderson Stadium on Saturday, April 16, 2022. UNC won 5-1.

UNC softball (2-0) began its season with a win this afternoon, beating Cal Baptist (0-1), 3-2, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. 

What happened?

The Tar Heels got their first scoring opportunity of the game on just the second batter. Third baseman Destiny Middleton lined a ball past the right fielder and to the wall. Middleton rounded third and attempted to score, but the Lancers relayed the ball in and tagged her out at home.

First-year MaKenna Raye Dark got her first start for UNC and found trouble in her first inning. With no outs and women on second and third base, Dark managed the jam and escaped with no Lancers crossing the plate. The inning ended with an attempted suicide squeeze that ultimately led to a double play.

The Lancers were able to strike first in the bottom of the second inning, though. Amanda Bricker blasted a pitch over the center field wall to give them a 1-0 lead. A two-out single by Priscilla Estrada doubled the lead as the Tar Heels entered the third inning down two.

Abby Settlemyre immediately answered with a two-out RBI single of her own, bringing home Kianna Jones and cutting the deficit in half. 

The score remained 2-1 until the top of the fifth when a double by Dark brought Bri Stubbs home all the way from first, tying the game. The Tar Heels took the lead later in the inning. The centerfielder lost a flyball by Settlemyre in the sun, allowing the ball to drop and the Tar Heels to plate another run.

Cal Baptist struggled to get anything going on offense after its second-inning run. In their final opportunity in the seventh, sophomore Lilli Backes shut them down 1-2-3 and delivered the Tar Heels their first win of the season.

Who stood out?

Dark pitched well in her first college appearance, allowing two earned runs and four hits during her 3.2 innings of work. Backes also shined in relief, pitching 3.1 hitless innings and allowing just one baserunner on a hit-by-pitch.

Settlemyre was the star on offense, going 3-4 at the plate and collecting 2 RBIs. After missing all of 2021 and most of 2022 due to injury, a healthy Settlemyre is a big addition to the lineup.

When was it decided?

With the game going back and forth all afternoon, it was not decided until first baseman Jones caught a foul out to complete the victory. 

The contest was over, though, when Backes entered the game with two outs in the fourth. The Lancers could not generate any offense off of the Tar Heels’ ace and had no real chances to tie the game in the final three innings.

Why does it matter?

The Tar Heels last had a winning record in 2019, so getting off to a good start is critical for this team. They also followed this win up with another victory against BYU in the second leg of the doubleheader.

With tougher games looming later in the tournament against No. 25 Ole Miss and No. 3 Oklahoma State, winning these early games should provide some momentum going into those matchups.

When do they play next?

The Tar Heels will play No. 25 Ole Miss tomorrow in the third of four games in the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge this weekend.


@dthsports |

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