What a frustrating way for the season to end.
UCLA is Iceman from Top Gun. They play the game ice cold, no mistakes. You get bored, do something stupid and they have you. That being said, Kent Emanuel did his job in six innings. After having struggled through several starts, Emanuel finally pitched a solid outing, his last as a Tar Heel. He gave up just two runs and only one of them was earned. Under normal circumstances that would be enough because UNC's offense usually provides the runs. Unfortunately these were not normal circumstances.
The lack of hitting in T.D. Ameritrade Park has been discussed ad nauseum but couple that with the way UCLA plays baseball and it makes a tougher task even more so. UNC simply couldn't get the hits when it needed them while UCLA did scratching out a 2-0 lead. The Tar Heels didn't do themselves any favors after Emanuel left the game trailing 2-0. A pair of walks to start the 7th, one by Chris McCue, the other by Tate Parrish opened the door for UCLA to make it a 4-0 lead off the only big hit of the evening, a double off Trevor Kelley.
A two run lead felt like a tough mountain to climb but at four runs it seemed insurmountable. That didn't stop the Heels from fighting to their last breath. In the ninth UNC loaded the bases and scored on a fielder choice off the bat of Mike Zolk. After Parks Jordan struck out and Chaz Frank walked to load the bases again, Landon Lassiter came up having gone 3-4 in the game. The fourth hit didn't come as yet another well struck ball was caught in centerfield to end UNC's season.
Now, I would be remiss if I didn't at least note two rather egregious calls that gave UNC outs they were not supposed to have. The first ended a rally in the fourth. UNC had runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out. Skye Bolt hit into a potential double play with Cody Stubbs being cut down at second and the umpire calling Bolt out at first. Except that wasn't the case. The replay showed Bolt beat the throw and it was not even close. The ball was well out of the glove when Bolt hit the bag. Instead of having first and third with two outs down 1-0, the inning ended. Would UNC have scored there? Maybe, maybe not but they should have been given the opportunity. The other play was in the ninth when UCLA SS Pat Valaika took a throw at second to cut down Michael Russell except he was clearly off the bag when he caught the ball. The umpire called Russell out anyway giving UNC one less run to work with.
Obviously the umpires didn't cost UNC the game but in a game like baseball where one play or inning or run can change the whole dynamic of the game getting hosed on two fairly clear calls hurts. Beating a team like UCLA in a park where hitting is seemingly forbidden is already difficult. Trying to do it being shorted two outs and having at least the opportunity with runners in scoring position is unacceptable.
Regardless of the way it ended, the Heels ended up 59-12 and tied for 3rd place in the NCAA Tournament. The season didn't end with the title this team was built to win but baseball is just random that way. At the CWS the margin of error is also thinner especially when the Heels end up losing one game to Carlos Rodon and the other to a UCLA squad that manages to suck the offensive life out of any team they play. It was a crappy way for the season to end but it shouldn't take away from the year as a whole. The Heels did win the ACC Championship and had its share of epic moments. It also doesn't take away from this team's resiliency and toughness which was fun to watch. A title would have been nice but "UNC in Omaha" continues to have a life of its own.
Oh and a note to both the NCAA and ESPN. Dead bats and mindbogglingly stupid announcing means I won't be watching the rest of the College World Series. Please fix both of them please. Thanks.