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Oxford, Miss. – North Carolina batted around and scored three in the top of the first, but No. 22 Arizona State blasted four home runs in the first three innings to slug past the Tar Heels, 9-3, in the opening game of the NCAA Oxford Regional. The win sends the Sun Devils (31-20) in to the winner's bracket, while UNC (38-20) will face Southern Illinois in an elimination game at 5 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 20.
Leah Murray led North Carolina at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a stolen base and run score. The sophomore led off the first and second innings with a single and scored the first run of the game. Taylor Wike and Katie Bailiff had UNC's remaining two hits, both in the first inning, while Bailiff, Kendra Lynch and Brittany Pickett had the team's three RBIs. Pickett reached base twice, with a bases-loaded walk and a hit by pitch, and Berlynne Delamora's sixth-inning walk represented UNC's remaining base runner.
Pickett (21-9) started in the circle for Carolina, but retired just one of the first six batters, allowing five runs on four hits, including two homers, in the bottom of the first. Kendra Lynch got the Heels out of the first after a 42-minute rain delay, but went on to allow three runs on five hits, including two more dingers, with three strikeouts over 2.2 innings. Kellyn Daly tossed the next 1.2 innings, allowing a run on one hit and three walks, and Sydney Matzko closed out the game for Carolina, allowing two hits over the final 1.1 scoreless frames.
Breanna Macha (13-8) went the distance for Arizona State, allowing two earned runs on four hits and three walks over the full seven innings. After the first seven batters of the game reached base, Macha pitched to just one more than the minimum over the remaining 6.2 innings, with the help of a pair of double plays.
The Sun Devils belted four home runs to score the first eight runs, with two long balls by shortstop Chelsea Gonzales, a three-run blast by Margaret Stahm, and a two-run shot by Brynley Steele.
UNC attacked the Sun Devils early, as the first seven batters of the game reached base safely. Murray led off with a single and a stolen base, then Wike singled off the first baseman. Lynch drove on the first run of the game on an error by the Gonzales at short, and an RBI single by Bailiff made it 2-0 Carolina. A bases-loaded walk issued to Pickett put the Tar Heels ahead 3-0 before a pair of strikeouts ended the frame.
Carolina did not lead for long, as Arizona State used a two-run homer (Gonzales) and a three-run homer (Stahm) to push in front 5-3 in the bottom of the first. The Tar Heels announced a pitching change, but at the same time the rain picked up as both teams left the field for a rain delay. Forty-two minutes later Lynch entered the circle and got the job done to end the inning.
In her second at-bat of the game, Gonzales skied one high and out for a solo shot, her second dinger of the game, to make it 6-3 Arizona State in the bottom of the second.
The Sun Devils added another pair of runs in the bottom of the third off a two-run blast by Brynley Steele.
Daly came in and pitched a scoreless bottom of the fourth, but a bases-loaded walk with two outs in the fifth made it 9-3 ASU. Matzko then took over and drew a pop up to keep the Sun Devils from ending the game early.
Delamora led off the sixth with a walk, UNC's first baserunner since the second inning, but the second double play of the game kept the Heels from getting anything going.
Pickett was hit by ball four to lead off the seventh inning, but three straight ground out stranded her on third, as Arizona State sealed up the victory, 9-3.