The North Carolina softball team (4-2) beat Minnesota (4-2), 1-0, on Friday evening to begin the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Sophomore pitcher Lilli Backes escaped a jam in the top of the first, leaving two runners stranded with a groundout to senio Destiny Middleton at third. The inning ended scoreless with the Tar Heels going down 1-2-3 in the bottom half of the frame.
Senior outfielder Bri Stubbs struck first for the Tar Heels in the second inning. A single from sophomore catcher Annie Kate Dalton and a stolen base from pinch-runner Aneshia Jordan put a woman in scoring position for UNC. Stubbs converted the chance with a two-out double off the retreating shortstop’s glove, giving the Tar Heels a 1-0 lead.
UNC threatened again in the third after fifth-year first baseman Kiersten Licea rocketed a double into left center, putting runners on second and third. Minnesota pitcher Autumn Pease evaded damage, though, by striking out redshirt junior utility player Kianna Jones looking.
Minnesota left runners on base in the fifth inning. The Gophers had women on first and second with just one out, but Backes dug deep once again. Catcher Dalton caught a tipped third strike to end the threat and keep the Tar Heels up one. The pitching duel continued in the bottom of the frame with Pease retiring UNC in order.
Backes played with even more danger in the sixth. Her second hit-by-pitch of the evening produced a bases loaded chance for the Gophers. As was the case all evening, though, Backes refused to yield. A weak pop out to resdhirt senior Abby Settlemyre at second base ended the jam, and the Tar Heels entered the seventh with the lead.
The Gophers manufactured one last threat opportunity in the last inning. A grounder over the third base bag sneaked under the glove of Destiny Middleton and put a runner on third. With two outs, though, Settlemyre fielded a tough grounder and threw the ball to first to end the game.