CAA

Confidence Carried UNC Wilmington To The NCAA Tournament

Confidence Carried UNC Wilmington To The NCAA Tournament

The UNC Wilmingon Seahawks open the NCAA Softball Tournament this week against the Clemson Tigers.

May 16, 2022 by Kyle Kensing
Confidence Carried UNC Wilmington To The NCAA Tournament

Boseman Field’s tarp symbolizes an incredible championship run for UNC Wilmington.  

Before the Seahawks made the trek to Elon for the Colonial Athletic Association Championship, coach Kristy Norton made a proclamation.  

“We had an incredible practice and I was like, ‘We need to put the tarp on the field, because we’re going to win this thing,’” she said just moments after UNCW was introduced as part of the 2022 NCAA Tournament field.  

“The girls were like, ‘Heck yeah, coach!’” 

The confidence expressed in that one gesture carried over to the conference title weekend, as the Seahawks rolled off three straight wins over Hofstra, Delaware and the finale, a 10-2 defeat of host Elon that officially punched UNCW’s postseason ticket.  

In routing the Phoenix, the same energy from rolling out the tarp, to ensure a practice-ready field this week, became most evident. UNCW fell behind early when Elon plated two in the first inning.  

It was an advantage the Phoenix held through four innings, including three in which the Seahawks failed to score. And yet, the confidence never wavered.  

“There were little things that started happening throughout the game that we don’t normally do,” Norton said.  

First was Morgan Britt’s solo home run in the fourth to get UNCW off the schneid.  

Batting just under .300 on the season, Britt came into the CAA Championship as one of the Seahawks’ most reliable hitters—but not a power hitter. One wouldn’t know it seeing the velocity with which her solo shot came off the bat.  

The homer highlighted a remarkable day for Britt, whose 3-of-4 performance drove in four runs.  

“To hit my first home run was really big for me,” said Britt.  

“Moving into this regional tournament, I hope it carries over and I’m sure it will.”  

That is confidence, and it is well-earned. Britt came into the 2022 season off shoulder surgery that sidelined her throughout the ’21 campaign. After COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 2020 season, Britt had yet to play a real college season.  

But in her first season, she delivered a history-making effort that resulted in an all-tournament selection. If she had any rust coming into the season, it didn’t show.  

Likewise, one might not look at the Seahawks roster and guess at the prominence of freshmen. A youth movement of first-years who looked like veterans did their part throughout UNCW’s regular season and continued it into the CAA Championship.  

Chief among the youngsters, Emily Winstead earned Most Outstanding Performer for her 2-0 pitching performance. In 12.2 innings pitched over three games, Winstead gave up just two earned runs and struck out 15 batters.  

With a season-long ERA of 1.66 and WHIP of .96, the confidence her Seahawks teammates have gained in Winstead didn’t falter even after Elon’s 2-0 start.  

“Our pitchers have been spot-on all season,” Britt said.  

“And I knew when we put up runs, they’d have no problem shutting them down.” 

“The freshmen came in firing and they never slowed down,” said Mary Sobataka.  

“That showed throughout the season [when] they got a bunch of accolades, and it showed throughout the tournament as well.” 

Sobataka, a junior, played a key part in bridging the freshmen with the upperclassmen.  

Although in her third collegiate season, Sobataka was a newcomer to the UNCW roster this season. She thus spent time in the offseason, Norton said, working out with the freshmen.  

“Her presence with the freshman class, and not treating them like newbies, really kind of blended the whole team together,” said Norton.  

How fitting, then, that Sobataka put the exclamation point on UNCW’s championship march. Sobataka’s fifth-inning at-bat was one of those moments that Seahawks coach alluded to when saying the title contest saw her team do “things [they] don’t normally.”  

She had two home runs prior this season, but her grand slam to cap an eight-run fifth inning is on another level.  

“I came into the dugout and I looked at my assistant coach Diego [Ibarra] and I said, ‘You know, I’ve never really felt a home run feel like that before,’” Sobataka said.  

“It was so surreal. Making the diving catch, hitting the game-winning home run, getting the strikeout in a championship, [is] all that stuff you dream of as a kid.” 

From one dream to another, UNCW is headed to the NCAA Tournament and an opening Regional at Clemson. The Seahawks open with the No. 10-ranked host Tigers. Auburn and Louisiana-Lafayette occupy the other two spots in the Regional.  

When the time comes for UNCW to make the short trip to the Palmetto State, don’t be surprised if this team again opts to leave the tarp on at Boseman Field.