College softball: North Carolina edges No. 10 Georgia in extra innings
ATHENS, Ga. -- North Carolina used power at the plate and sure defense to edge No. 10 Georgia, 2-1, in eight innings, marking the second straight season that the Tar Heels have defeated a top-10 Bulldog squad at Jack Turner Stadium.
“Great win over a top-10 SEC team,” said head coach Donna J. Papa. “Our girls were really excited for the game and they competed. I feel like we’ve been playing better and playing more like the team I thought we were. We’re starting to gain confidence, we’re making the plays that we need to make, and our pitching has been very solid. Combine that with timely hitting and you come out with a win. To do that on the road at an SEC venue against a top 10 team, it’s a great confidence builder for us.”
Carolina (20-18) had a score to settle with the Bulldogs (31-8), who knocked the Tar Heels out of the NCAA Tournament last season with a walk-off home run by Alex Hugo in the bottom of the seventh to end the 2015 season. Home runs by Kendra Lynch and Kristen Brown did the trick to back an eight-inning gem by Lynch, including striking out Hugo three times.
“It makes it fun to come here,” said Papa. “I love coming to Georgia. They girls just have a good feel here. They have a great facility. We came out here and took BP this morning and I thought they had some fun out here. We went into it relaxed, but we knew we were going to fight. We weren’t nervous because we were playing Georgia, it’s just a great environment to play in. The fan base that they have makes it even that much more exciting.”
The win was UNC’s first of the season over a ranked opponent and marked the eighth time in program history that the Tar Heels have taken down a top-10 team. Of those eight wins, four were over Georgia squads, including a 15-9 defeat of No. 9 Georgia last April in Athens.
Brown led the Tar Heels at the plate, going 2-for-4 with the game-winning home run in the eighth inning. The dinger was the 60th of her career, as she moved into a tie for third all time in ACC history. Lynch opened the scoring with a solo shot in the second, and Lauren Fuller, Leah Murray and Kiana Sherlund represented the Tar Heels’ remaining base hits.
“Pitching, defense and hitting, they were all strong tonight,” said Papa. “We had timely hitting. Kendra and KB (went yard). We had people on base in enough innings, and I thought we had a great approach at the plate.”
Lynch (17-14) tossed a complete extra innings game for the first time in her career, limiting the nation’s best hitting team—the Bulldogs entered the game leading the NCAA with a .370 batting average—to just one run on eight hits and a walk with five strikeouts over the full eight innings.
“I thought Kendra was on tonight,” said Papa. “She made her pitches. That’s a great hitting lineup—they are the best offensive team in the country. I thought she did a great job with the Emanuel sisters, Iosefa’s a great hitter, Hugo’s done damage to us in the past. And we made the plays defensively. I thought our outfield was outstanding. Kiwi in the seventh inning, Leah in the eighth inning, Kiana made a great catch as well.”
Georgia threw Kylie Bass (5-2), who entered the day ranked seventh in the nation with an 0.99 ERA, having allowed just six earned runs and six walks over 42.1 innings. The freshman hurler allowed two runs on six hits and two walks with seven strikeouts over eight innings, taking the loss.
Lynch opened the scoring for the Tar Heels in the top of the second, launching a leadoff home run, the 27th of her career, over the wall in right field.
A leadoff double by Katie Browne allowed Georgia to tie the score in the bottom of the fifth. Lacey Sumerlin got the bunt down to move her to third. Samantha LaZear followed with a little chopper in front of the plate. Lynch had no shot at an out at first but held pinch runner Brea Dickey at third. Sydni Emanuel hit another grounder back to the circle. The ball pulled Lynch toward first so she got the sure out at first, but allowed Dickey to score. Lynch then got a key strikeout to end the inning without falling behind, stranding LaZear on third.
The Tar Heels had a runner on base with less than two outs in the sixth and seventh innings but were unable to regain the lead, and a diving catch in left center by Aquilla Mateen sent the game into extras, stranding a two-out pinch hit double by Kaylee Puailoa.
With one out in the top of the eighth inning, Brown drilled a solo home run to left field to give Carolina back the lead, 2-1. A hit batter and a two-out single put runners on the corners, but UNC was unable to add any further insurance, as the Heels went to the bottom of the seventh with a 2-1 edge.
A diving catch by Murray in left helped Lynch retire first first two batters in the eighth, but Tina Iosefa kept the game alive with a full-count walk. Alyssa DiCarlo then laced her second single of the game to left field to represent the winning run at first base. Lynch was not rattled, as she caught Maeve McGuire looking on three straight pitches to close out the upset, 2-1.
“I never thought it would be a 2-1 game,” said Papa. “Last year it was 15-9 and they have a great hitting team. For Kendra to keep them to one run, that’s an awesome job. You can’t ask for more than that.”