ATLANTA – The Carolina offense hit as many home runs as base runners Tar Heel starter Kendra Lynch allowed, as UNC shut out Georgia Tech, 7-0, to open the final series of the regular season. Lynch, Kristen Brown and Taylor Wike all went deep in the game, while the junior hurler limited the Yellow Jackets to just three hits in the complete-game shutout. With the win, UNC improves to 28-22 (11-11 ACC) and secures a top-six finish in the ACC standings. After the loss, Georgia Tech falls to 22-31 (7-14 ACC).
“It was really a team effort,” said head coach Donna J. Papa “I thought that the team responded really well considering we haven’t played since a week and a half ago and their brains are a little friend from exams. To have a shutout win is pretty big. That’s a really good sign for us going into tomorrow.”
Senior Kristen Brown was a triple shy of the cycle, going 3-for-3 with a double, a walk and her 64th career home run. The Tar Heel slugger is now just one home run away from the all-time ACC record, set by NC State’s Renada Davis at 65 just last season. Additionally, Brown moved into fifth in the ACC in career total bases (459) while improving to fourth at UNC in career hits (230).
Carolina’s starting shortstop, who has reached base safely in every game this season, has been extra hot of late, reaching safely in 19 of her past 25 plate appearances over the last seven games.
Taylor Wike opened the scoring with a two-run home run in the top of the first. Wike’s bomb drove in Destiny DeBerry, who became just the fifth Tar Heel in program history and first since 2010 to steal 30 bases in a season. Jillian Ferraro came through big time for UNC, drilling a two-out, two-run pinch hit double in the top of the sixth, and Aquilla Mateen followed with an infield RBI single.
“Jill came in with a big clutch hit that gave us a little breathing room,” said Papa, “and then KB and Kendra backed that with home runs.”
Kendra Lynch (24-16) secured her fourth shutout of the season and first in ACC play, allowing just three hits and no walks with three strikeouts. Georgia Tech had base runners on in just two innings, as Lynch retired the first eight batters she faced and shut down the final nine of the game.
“Kendra did an awesome job on the mound,” said Papa. “She got every leadoff except for the fourth inning and that’s key. Their leadoff batter (Samantha) Pierannunzi can make some things happen. (Courtney) Ziese is one of their best hitters, and she really handled them very well. I think that stopped a lot of their momentum.”
Lynch continues to climb UNC’s single-season charts, moving into a tie for second in starts and eighth in wins, while already sitting in fifth in appearances and eighth in innings pitched.
“I think that was big for her to get a shutout at this point in the season,” said Papa. She looked like she had good command of her pitches. She seemed to feel good about what she was doing. She was rested, and that makes a big difference.”
Jenna Goodrich (11-17) went the distance for Georgia Tech, but allowed seven runs on 10 hits and two walks. Neither team made an error in the field, while both squads made several fantastic plays on defense.
“Georgia Tech made some really great defensive plays,” said Papa. “We were hitting the ball really hard but we were just hitting it right at people and sooner or later the odds were in our favor.
“We played a very good defensive game, too. Our outfield, Kiwi Mateen, Kiana Sherlund, we made the plays.”
The Tar Heels did not waste any time, as DeBerry led off the game with a single to center, then stole her 30th base of the season. Wike then drilled a two-run shot to right center to make it 2-0 Carolina before the first out of the game was recorded.
A two-out double by Brown gave Carolina another scoring chance in the third, but a diving catch by first baseman Katie Krzus robbed Lynch of an RBI single to hold UNC’s lead at two.
Kelsey Chisholm led off the bottom of the fourth with a double to right center, just the second Yellow Jacket baserunner of the game. With two outs, Maddie Lionberger singled up the middle, but a great throw from center by Mateen nabbed Chisholm at the plate, ending the inning and preserving the shutout.
Ferraro came through in the clutch for some insurance in the top of the sixth. Brown led off with a single up the middle, then Lynch was hit by a pitch. A single by Tracy Chandless loaded the bases, but Lauren Fuller grounded back to first for the second out. Ferraro then stepped in to pinch hit and ripped a two-out, two-RBI double to left center to make it 4-0 Carolina. Mateen kept the rally going with an RBI single to shortstop, giving Lynch a 5-0 cushion to protect in the final two innings.
With two outs in the top of the seventh, Brown and Lynch went back to back with solo shots to further increase Carolina’s lead, 7-0.
Following the play at the plate in the fourth inning, Lynch retired the remaining nine batters of the game, finishing the night with a strikeout to seal up her fourth shutout of the season, 7-0.
“It’s important for us to win this series,” said Papa. “I told the girls before the game, we had a goal of getting into the ACC Tournament, and now it’s to get a good seed so that we have a better opportunity when we go into the tournament to advance. That’s our goal right now.”
The Tar Heels return to Shirley Mewborn Field on Sunday, May 8, for the final two games of the 2016 regular season. UNC will fight for its best potential seed for next week’s ACC Softball Championship, while Georgia Tech seeks to punch its ticket to the postseason, fighting for the eighth and final spot in the bracket. The regular-season finale is slated for 1 p.m., with both games of the doubleheader airing live on ESPN3.