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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC softball wins 5-4 thriller over N.C. State to take game one of series


Sophomore pitcher Lilli Backes (99) pitches the ball at a game against the University of Michigan on Tuesday, Mar. 1, 2022. The Tar Heels lost 0-8.

The North Carolina softball team (21-25) won a thriller against the N.C. State Wolfpack (16-29) on Friday evening, 5-4, in Raleigh.

What happened?

The Tar Heels earned their first baserunner of the game in the second when senior first baseman Kiersten Licea drew a leadoff walk. Three consecutive groundouts stranded Licea on second base, though. In the bottom of the inning, Backes’ rise ball fooled Wolfpack batters, striking out the side swinging.

After the Tar Heels went down in order, Lilli Backes continued her sensational beginning to the outing in the third by striking out the side once again. Her seventh-consecutive strikeout put a cap on three perfect innings for the pitcher. 

In the fourth, senior center fielder Bri Stubbs found a hole up the middle, and redshirt senior second baseman Abby Settlemyre reached on a bunt single to put runners on first and second with no outs. Licea capitalized, ripping an RBI single down the third base line, just past the diving glove of the Wolfpack third baseman. Later in the inning, senior third baseman Destiny Middleton doubled that lead with a one-out fielder’s choice to first base.

Backes’ perfect game watch was ended with a bang to lead off the fourth when sophomore third baseman Hannah Goodwin smashed a poorly executed rise ball over the center field wall. With runners on first and second, N.C. State tied the game with a long double off the base of the right-field wall. The next batter took the lead for the Wolfpack with a hard grounder that bounced off Middleton’s glove, scoring the runner from third. A final score was added when a one-out sac fly was poked into left field, and NC State ended the inning up 4-2.

The Tar Heels fought back in the fifth. Junior left fielder Carsyn Snead showed off her speed by barely beating out a bunt single. She crossed home plate after sophomore shortstop Alex Brown rocketed a one-out triple down the right-field line. Stubbs quickly tied the game, bringing Brown home on an RBI groundout to the shortstop.

UNC took the lead in the sixth with a two-out rally. The Tar Heels worked two runners on, and Brown shot a liner off the diving shortstop’s glove and into left field, bringing in the leading run from second. Working in her second inning of relief, junior Talia Hannappel retired the Wolfpack in order in the seventh to secure the victory for UNC. 

Who stood out? 

UNC’s ace shined again in the circle, pitching five innings and setting a career-high with 10 strikeouts. Other than a shaky fourth inning, Backes was unhittable for most of the night. Hannappel also pitched well in relief, keeping UNC in the lead with two hitless innings.

From the plate, Brown continued her outstanding sophomore campaign by going 2-4 with two RBIs. The two hits increases her average up to .405 on the year, up from .157 as a first-year. Her batting average ranks seventh in the conference and top-60 in the nation. 

When was it decided?

The game was decided in the seventh when junior right fielder Skyler Brooks made a spectacular diving catch to rob the Wolfpack of a one-out double. The extraordinary play kept N.C. State from earning a runner in scoring position, and Hannappel finished the deal by inducing a two-out grounder to the shortstop.

Why does it matter?

UNC has now won eight of its last nine games and has worked its record to just four games under .500. With only one ACC weekend series left, the Tar Heels are now well on their way to clinching a spot in the ACC Tournament for the first time since 2021. 

When do they play next?

The Tar Heels will take on the Wolfpack in a doubleheader on Sunday.  


@dthsports |

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