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The Daily Tar Heel

No. 7 Diamond Heels fall, 5-3, to open series against No. 11 Duke

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The UNC Baseball Team celebrates after a win against UNCW on March 19, 2024 at Boshamer Stadium.

DURHAM, N.C. — Plagued by critical fielding errors and a failed comeback, the No. 7 Diamond Heels (39-12, 20-8 ACC) fell, 5-3, to the No. 11 Duke Blue Devils (35-16, 16-12 ACC) to open the first game of the last regular season series in Durham. 

After the Tar Heels went three up, three down in the top of the first inning, the Blue Devils got on the board early. Graduate first baseman Logan Bravo singled to left field to bring graduate third baseman Ben Miller home. 

North Carolina suffered the same quick fate in the next inning while Duke built on its momentum in the second. 

Junior center fielder Devin Obee found success early, reaching third base on a hit down the right-field line. To put the Blue Devils up by two, Obee reached home plate on an error after the ball slipped under first-year third baseman Gavin Gallaher’s glove. 

Following an active start, the third, fourth and fifth innings were silent. The third inning saw a six up, six down showing. In the fourth, the Tar Heels continued their 1-2-3 streak while one Blue Devil made it on base. During the fifth inning, UNC left one player on base as Duke only saw three batters at the plate. 

"We just could not do anything against those two good arms," head coach Scott Forbes said.

To open up the sixth, first-year catcher Luke Stevenson worked to put North Carolina back in the game with a solo shot to right field. But the following three batters failed to reach first. 

Duke returned the favor in the bottom of the sixth after Bravo hit a homer of his own. Exiting the inning, the Tar Heels found themselves in a 3-1 deficit. 

The opening game of the series quickly turned into a homerun battle. Senior first baseman Parks Harber hit a bomb to left field to push the Tar Heels closer to a late-game overthrow. Graduate right fielder Anthony Donofrio followed suit with a liner to the left side of the field. 

The Blue Devils met at the mound following the two hits. In an attempt to close the game, right-handed pitcher Charlie Beilenson took over, looking to stop the bleeding. However, UNC continued to build on Harber’s homer. 

Graduate second baseman Alex Madera singled up the middle and Gallaher hit a fly out to left field to bring Donofrio home. The Tar Heels left the top of the seventh inning tied 3-3. 

"We were right there," Forbes said. "I mean we came back. Tells you what type of team we have. Our guys were battling."

But Duke worked to inch themselves to another lead. Following a quick first out, the Blue Devils responded with two back-to-back doubles to push first-year right fielder AJ Gracia home. The Tar Heels retired two batters to exit the inning. 

At the top of the eighth, UNC failed to respond, leaving redshirt sophomore left fielder Casey Cook on base. 

Fielding errors continued to plague North Carolina in the bottom of the eighth. With two outs, Miller reached first after Harber dropped a routine throw to first. Duke's designated hitter Kyle Johnson scored off the error. North Carolina entered the top of the ninth down 5-3. 

"You gotta make plays, [in] games like this especially," Forbes said. "When they're pitching it like that and all the sudden you come back, you gotta grab every out that you can."

The Tar Heels went three up, three down to end the first game of the series. 

"Sometimes you don't play great, but you're still in the game and that was the case tonight," Forbes said. "We just didn't come out on top."

The Diamond Heels will return to Durham on Friday at 2 p.m. for the second game of the series. 

@_emmahmoon

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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