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The Daily Tar Heel

Comeback effort falls short as Diamond Heels drop first game in NCAA Tournament to Iowa, 5-4

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Junior pitcher Jake Knapp enters the dugout after an inning  against the University of Virginia on Thursday, May 25, 2023. The Diamond Heels won 10-2. 

The North Carolina Diamond Heels' struggle with timely hitting and starting pitching consistency proved detrimental in their 5-4 loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes, pushing them into the Terre Haute regional elimination bracket. 

What happened?

Junior Jake Knapp started his game on the mound by establishing his fastball, serving Iowa’s leadoff man a three-pitch strikeout. While Knapp struck out two in his first inning of work, Iowa found their offensive mojo first as Sam Hojar doubled down the left-field line scoring two.

Iowa increased their lead in the second, as the Hawkeyes put two men in scoring position with their quality discipline at the plate, scoring a run on an infield single to second. 

Junior catcher Tomas Frick kept his bat hot, slamming a leadoff double down the left field line in an attempt to get some sort of offensive rhythm going for the Tar Heels. Junior first baseman Hunter Stokely drew a walk and both men advanced on a wild pitch by Iowa’s starter Marcus Morgan. Junior designated hitter Alberto Osuna got the Diamond Heels on the board with a sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Frick and closing the gap.

After both teams found marginal success at the plate — with the Tar Heels being 0-8 with runners in scoring position — junior outfielder Patrick Alvarez singled and junior third baseman Johnny Castagnozzi drew a walk in an effort to kickstart the struggling UNC offense. The Tar Heels were unable to capitalize and increased their dismal hitting stat with runners in scoring position. 

With five outs left in the game, Stokely knocked a single into right field but he was out on a double play when Alvarez hit a line drive to second. 

Iowa knocked in a pair of insurance runs in the eighth on an RBI single by Brayden Frazier and some small ball in the form of a sacrifice bunt. 

Osuna infused energy into the Tar Heel lineup, smashing a hanging breaking ball over the center field fence for his 11th homer of the season, giving the Tar Heels a glimmer of hope. Nine-hole hitter Colby Wilkerson followed Osuna’s tempo and popped a single into center field. The Diamond Heels were able to pull the game within one run after junior outfielder Mac Horvath drew a walk and first-year outfielder Casey Cook was hit home on a single to right field by junior second baseman Jackson Van De Brake.

Even with an eruption of late offensive life, the Diamond Heels were plagued with inefficiency that proved fatal as Iowa induced a swinging strikeout by Stokely to end the game. 

Who stood out? 

Despite only having one hit in the game, Osuna made his swing of the bat count with a two-run homer in the ninth. 

Graduate pitcher Kevin Eaise was able to hold some command on the mound for 3.2 innings, allowing just a single hit in 13 batters faced while striking out three. 

When was it decided?

The Hawkeyes took an early lead, finding success against Knapp and scoring three runs in the first two innings. UNC was its own worst enemy, leaving runners stranded and struggling to find consistency on the mound.

Why does it matter?

The Diamond Heels entered the NCAA tournament as a three-seed in the Terre Haute Regional and will have to win at least two games to have a chance to win the regional and advance. With the loss, the Diamond Heels will have to face Wright State at noon on Saturday in an elimination game. The Tar Heels struggled with timely hitting and starting pitching — problems they have wrestled with all year.

When do they play next?

The Tar Heels will take on Wright State in an elimination game on Saturday at noon.

@gracegnugent

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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