CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina head coach Donna J. Papa became the 11th coach in NCAA softball history to win 1,200 career victories on Friday night, leading the Tar Heels to a 5-1 win over No. 21 Pittsburgh in the ACC season opener at Anderson Stadium.
“Milestones are always great,” said Papa. “Honestly all the players that have played for me, that’s what it really comes down to. Its theirs too, and I’ve just been here to lead them. They’ve all contributed. I’m so thankful for all the great players that I’ve had since I’ve been here for 32 years.
“I think it just means I’m old,” Papa added with a smile.
Freshman Brittany Pickett limited the Panthers to three hits in the complete-game outing while crushing her first career home run in the bottom of the sixth. The win extends Carolina’s winning streak to eight straight, improving to 13-4 (1-0 ACC), while Pitt drops to 12-3 (0-1 ACC).
“That was a great win,” said Papa. “Pitt has a quality team and they’ve been playing well so I knew it was going to be a really good game. I knew it was going to be a good pitching duel. (Pitt starter Kayla) Harris pitched a perfect game last week. Brittany Pickett has been throwing really well, our pitching staff has been doing a really nice job, and our hitters have had a lot of poise at the plate.”
North Carolina out-hit Pittsburgh, 13-3, in the game, as five different Tar Heels turned in multi-hit performances. Berlynne Delamora went 2-for-2 with two walks and a game-tying solo home run, and Pickett went 2-for-3 with a monster home run. Katie Bailiff and Katelyn Shifflett both went 2-for-3 with a double and combined for three RBIs. Additionally, Destiny DeBerry went 2-for-3 in the nine spot.
“We just were squaring the ball up all night,” said Papa. “I think Katelyn Shifflett came up big for us tonight. She wound up going 2-for-3 with two RBIs. Berlynne got us on the board right away which is always nice. You want to answer back.”
Brittany Pickett went the distance for Carolina, improving to 6-0 on the season after allowing one run on three hits and a walk with six strikeouts.
“Brittany did a great job on the mound and didn’t pitch like a freshman,” said Papa. “She’s had a lot of experience now going into ACC play. She handled their hitters very well and they have, in the middle of their lineup, some tough hitters.”
Kayla Harris started for Pitt but left after just 1.2 innings, having surrendered six hits but no runs. Brittany Knight (6-1) took her first loss of the season, giving up all five runs on six hits and a walk with one strikeout, and Sarah Dawson allowed a hit and a walk and got the final three outs.
Despite four Tar Heel singles in the bottom of the first, it was Pitt that would get on the board first, as Giorgiana Zeremenko led off with a double to shallow left field and Alexis Solak sent her home on a sacrifice fly.
Carolina tied the score in the bottom of the third with a leadoff home run by Delamora.
The Tar Heels took the lead in the bottom of the fifth, scoring three runs on two hits and a walk. Taylor Wike led off with a single, then Delamora drew a walk. The pair moved into scoring position on a wild pitch, and Bailiff grounded sharply the shortstop. McKayla Taylor threw home but Wike slid under the tag to put UNC on top 2-1. After another fielder’s choice, Shifflett drilled a two-run double to the gap in left center, making it 4-1 Carolina before being thrown out trying to take third on the throw to the plate to end the inning.
Pickett secured the win in the bottom of the sixth inning, launching a leadoff home run well out of the ball park in right center for her first career long ball.
“Brittany Pickett hit the longest bomb that I have seen in almost my whole coaching career,” Papa remarked, “so I’m excited.”
After an error allowed the leadoff batter to reach in the top of the seventh, Pickett did not lose focus, retiring three straight with a pair of strikeouts to capture her third complete-game victory.
“I’m really excited that we got that first win,” said Papa. “I think that’s big to set the tone for the weekend. Tomorrow is going to be another battle.”
The Tar Heels return to Anderson Stadium on Saturday, March 4, at 1 p.m. for game two of the three-game series with the nationally-ranked Panthers.