On Thursday night, the No. 6 seeded North Carolina softball team (26-28, 13-11 ACC) fell to the No. 3 seeded and No. 10 nationally ranked Clemson Tigers (46-8, 19-6 ACC), 2-1, in the 2023 ACC Tournament, hosted by Notre Dame at Melissa Cook Stadium.
With ACC Player of the Year Valerie Cagle in the circle for the Tigers, hits were hard to come by for the Tar Heels. In the first inning, UNC went three up and three down and Cagle threw two strikeouts.
The Tar Heels’ regular season struggles looked like they were going to seep into the game early as they picked up an error on what could have been the third out in the bottom of the first. The error was the 67th of the season for a UNC team — the most errors in the ACC this season.
Junior right fielder Skyler Brooks reached base in the second inning for UNC’s first base runner of the night, but senior third baseman Destiny Middleton was left in scoring position.
The Tigers’ bats struck first as their first hit of the game — a single from graduate student Ally Miklesh — brought in a run for Clemson. After two strong innings, UNC sophomore left-handed pitcher Lilli Backes began to give up some opportunities to the Tigers, who reached base three times in the third.
A single from Brooks in the fourth inning paired with some aggressive base running from senior second baseman Abby Settlemyre, helped UNC cross home plate and tie the game at 1-1.
As a pitchers battle ensued between Backes and Cagle, the two teams entered the fifth knotted up at one run.
Just as they had all night, Backes and Cagle went head-to-head with the Tar Heel pitcher striking out Cagle to strand two runners for the Tigers and send both teams into the sixth still evened up. Cagle came back and punched in her eleventh strikeout to close the top of the sixth and tie her season best for strikeouts.