After a run that saw them take down Louisville and NC State, UNC softball went into Saturday’s ACC championship game with a chance to clinch an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, they were tasked woith the #5 team in the country, who played up to that ranking.
The Tar Heels fell 8-0 to defending national champions Florida State in the ACC final, as they ran into one of the hottest teams in the country. FSU came in on 12-game winning steak, having allowed just 10 runs during that time. Between that, and their high-powered offense, they jumped on Carolina early, and never let up, scoring in five of the six innings played.
Despite the loss, the Tar Heels themselves have been hot of late, winning 11 of their last 15. Starting pitcher Brittany Pickett ran into a tough matchup on Saturday, but had struck out 13 hitters just one day earlier in the ACC semifinal against NC State, and had allowed just four combined runs in two complete games in her last two appearances. Kiani Ramsey led the way for UNC’s offense on Satuday, as she has all season, recording the Heels’ lone extra-base hit in the loss. For the season, Ramsey has hit .397 with a .446 on base percentage, and a .548 slugging percentage.
After the loss, UNC will now have to rely on an at-large berth should they made the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels received votes in the most recent softball coaches’ poll, and the various college softball websites all seem to place Carolina in the field of 64. The Heels seem to have a pretty good résumé that includes a series win over Florida State, and wins over several other ranked teams. Despite all that, it will still be a case of waiting and seeing ahead of tonight’s selection show.
Should the Heels get in, it will be a return to the tournament after missing out last year. Prior to last year’s absence, UNC had made three NCAAT appearances in a row, and have gone to 14 in the last 18 years under coach Donna J. Papa.
The Tar Heels have never made it past the regionals round in the NCAA Tournament, but after advancing to the ACC Championship Game, maybe this is the year they can make a run towards the Women’s College World Series.