CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina secured the series sweep of No. 21 Pittsburgh on ACC opening weekend, using a six-run fifth inning to tie the score and an RBI single by Katie Bailiff handed UNC its fourth walk-off victory of the season, 8-7, in nine innings. With their second extra-innings win of the year, the Tar Heels picked up their 10th straight victory, improving to 15-4 (3-0 ACC), while the nationally-ranked Panthers fell to 12-5 (0-3 ACC).
“It’s huge,” said head coach Donna J. Papa. “To beat a ranked team that’s had really great success so far this season. They started really strong, 9-0 to start the season. They beat Kentucky, their pitcher just threw a no-hitter last week. It’s very hard to win three games in a row. We went down, their big hitter, who tore us apart last year, hit the three-run homer, but they don’t panic. They keep their composure. Sometimes it’s not pretty, but they find a way. It’s really big to sweep a series.”
Both teams posted double-digit hits in the game, with the Panthers narrowly outhitting Carolina, 13-11. Four Tar Heels turned in multi-hit performances, led by Bailiff, who went 3-for-5 with the game-tying and game-winning RBIs. Taylor Wike went 2-for-4 with a walk, a run and two RBIs, while Leah Murray went 2-for-5 with an RBI single and two runs scored including the game-winning run in extras. Katelyn Shifflett hit 2-for-4 with a double and a run, and Brittany Pickett reached base all four times with a solo home run, two walks and a hit by pitch.
“It’s a full team effort,” said Bailiff. “Everyone in the dugout—role players, starters, it doesn’t matter—we’re cheering for each other. We know what we need to do and everyone is supportive of each other.”
Kendra Lynch got the start for Carolina, but struggled, only pitching 1.0+ innings after allowing five runs, two earned, on five hits. Brittany Pickett (7-0) took over and pitched the next eight innings, allowing just two runs on eight hits with four strikeouts. Neither Tar Heel issued a walk in the game.
“I think Brittany Pickett was just outstanding this weekend,” said Papa. “She kept us in games and she had a pretty big bomb that she hit.”
Brittany Knight (6-2) pitched the majority of the game for Pittsburgh, giving up three runs on seven hits and three walks over a total of 7.2 innings. Kayla Harris was responsible for the remaining five runs on three hits and three walks, retiring just two of the eight batters she faced in the fifth. Sarah Dawson surrendered a hit to the sole batter she faced, before Knight returned to the circle with the score tied and closed out the game.
Giorgiana Zeremenko led Pitt at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a double, a home run and five of the team’s seven RBIs.
Infield hits by Olivia Gray and Alexis Solak put two on for Giorgiana Zeremenko in the top of the first, and the junior launched one out of the park in left field for a three-run home run to give Pitt an early 3-0 lead.
A pinch-hit RBI double by Alexee Haynes in the top of the second made it 4-0 Pittsburgh and led to a call to the bullpen, bringing in Pickett. A single to shallow left by Gray sent a fifth run across the plate before Pickett retired two to end the inning.
Pickett put Carolina on the board in the bottom of the third, leading off with a home run to straightaway center.
A single and two hit batters loaded the bases for Zeremenko, who ripped a two-run double to left center to make it 7-1 Pittsburgh.
Carolina put together a big two-out rally in the bottom of the fifth to score six runs and tie the score at seven. After issuing a leadoff single to Bailiff, Knight left the circle in favor of Harris. Shifflett singled and Pickett walked the load the bases. A force out at the plate represented the second out of the inning, but the next five Tar Heels reached base leading to two calls to the bullpen and six runs scored.
Murray and Wike hit back-to-back singles up the middle, sending a total of three runs across the plate. Berlynne Delamora walked to load the bases and Lynch followed with a walk to score Murray. Dawson then came in to pitch but allowed a run on a wild pitch then gave up the lead off an RBI single by Bailiff. Knight then reentered the game and got the final out to keep UNC from pulling in front.
“We never let down and we kept fighting,” said Papa. “That says a lot of our team and you can’t always coach that. That’s huge.”
Shifflett led off the sixth inning with a double, but after a sac bunt put two runners in scoring position, the Tar Heels could not come through with the RBI as the score remained knotted at seven.
Carolina turned inning-ending double plays in the top of the eighth and ninth, then Murray led off the bottom of the ninth with a single up the middle. Wike drew a walk, and Delamora bunted the pair into scoring position. Lynch loaded the bases on a fielder’s choice, then Bailiff came through once again with an RBI single through the right side to send Murray home and capture the Heels’ fourth walk-off victory of the season.
Carolina returns to Anderson Stadium for the final home game for two-and-a-half weeks, hosting Charlotte in a nonconference game on Tuesday, March 7, at 5 p.m. The game will air live on ACC Network Extra.