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Heels Eliminated from NCAA Tournament

Full moon weekend.

UNC was eliminated from the NCAA Baseball Tournament with a 9-5 defeat at the hands of St. John's losing a regional at home for the first time since 1983. The Heels were unable to get over the hump against the Red Storm who answered UNC's three run second with a three run third to maintain the lead. Both teams scored in the sixth and St. John's plated two in the top of the seventh to stake a 7-4 lead. UNC's best chance at the plate came in the bottom of the frame with the bases loaded and one out. Senior Jacob Stallings playing in his final game as a Tar Heel, drew a walk to make it 7-5 but that was it as Cody Stubbs was retired on a pop-up to the catcher and Shel McCain struck out swinging.

After a quiet 8th inning, St. John's got a leadoff single and then a throwing error to put runners at 2nd and 3rd with nobody out. Michael Morin entered the game less than 24 hours after giving up the walk-off three run home run to St. John's. For whatever reason Morin was not comfortable on the mound. He proceeded to hit the Red Storm's Sean O'Hare to load the bases. Morin recovered to record a pop-out to Stallings and a strike out of Danny Betha, who hit the game winning homer run to night before. Then the wheels came off. Morin issues a walk to Kyle Lombardo to force in a run but then induces a pop-up right in front of the mound. Morin decided to take it himself and has the ball carom of his glove resulting in another run. Morin finishes the inning but the damage was extensive as a two run deficit became four runs.

It is probably a tad unfair to focus solely on Morin however his weekend was probably a worst case scenario for a closer who had been as reliable as any UNC has had in recent memory. Morin, for whatever reason, was just shaky. Even in his appearance versus Cornell, Morin was not sharp which is shocking considering how outstanding he was in five innings of relief versus NC State the previous weekend. This weekend was far less kind.

vs Cornell: 1.1 IP, 1 hit, 0 ER, 1 walk
vs SJU(Sat.): 0.1 IP, 3 hits, 3 ER, 1 HR(game winner)
vs ECU: 1.0 IP, 1 hit, 1 ER, 1 HR
vs SJU(Sun.): 1.0 IP, 0 hits, 0 runs(two runs charged to Parrish and Munnelly), 1 walk, 1 hit batter, 1 error

Morin is one of the best relievers in the country as evidenced by his 19 saves which is now a UNC single season record. UNC would not have been a Coastal Division champion and #6 national seed without him. That being said, he certainly picked the wrong week to stop drinking. Some of this is the nature of closers whose confidence is a fragile thing. Some of this is the nature of baseball.

It was noted in the comments that UNC played its worst 72 hours of baseball at exactly the wrong time. That sort of thing happens and while concepts like "being due" is mostly anecdotal in nature there does seem to be an element of that in play here. UNC came in being absolutely dominant in home regional play and Morin likewise was a near lock. No one would have thought both of those would come flying apart this weekend but it did. That is a credit to St. John's for getting it done when it counted. UNC on the other hand simply could not get the hits when it needed them to go along with some less than ideal pitching at times.

The Heels finish the season 46-16. Looking ahead to next season, Jacob Stallings is the only key scholarship senior UNC would lose to graduation. The Heels have multiple juniors who would be draft eligible but according to Baseball America only R.C. Orlan and Michael Morin are ranked in its top 500 and at the tail end. Obviously we will need to see how that plays out. Losing Stallings, Orlan and Morin would hurt. However UNC still has plenty of good pitchers and most of the offensive lineup intact. A rotation of Kent Emanuel, Benton Moss and Hobbs Johnson would be extremely effective plus Colin Moran will be on a season-long audition for the MLB Draft. There should be plenty to be excited about next season with a young team maturing.