It ended up being a very close call, but North Carolina baseball is headed to the NCAA Tournament. The Heels got the #3 seed in the Lubbock Regional, which is headlined by the host and #8 national seed Texas Tech. However before any potential meeting with the Red Raiders, UNC will face off against a team they have some recent NCAA Tournament history with, and a program it would be nice to get some revenge on: UCLA.
The 2013 UNC baseball team could’ve gone down as one of the best in the history of the sport and definitely the best in program history. The Heels opened the season on a 16-game win steak, not losing until dropping a game to Miami on March 15th. They then promptly won the next two games over the Hurricanes by a combined score of 18-3.
The offense, led by future sixth overall draft pick Colin Moran, scored double digit runs 23 different times over the course of the season. The pitching staff featured several future major leaguers themselves, including #1 starter Kent Emmanuel, and Trent Thornton, who put up a 1.37 ERA, mostly out of the bullpen.
Carolina’s first series loss didn’t come until they dropped two of three to Georgia Tech in mid-May. By then, they had already eclipsed the 40-win mark. They ended the regular season with a 48-8 record.
The went undefeated on the way to the ACC Tournament title, although that was a bit of an adventure. In pool play, it took 14 inning for them to pull off a win over Clemson after a five-run ninth inning rally. The very next day, they battled NC State for 18 innings before coming out on top.
They dropped two games on the road to the College World Series, including a wild one against Florida Atlantic. After losing a four-run lead in the ninth, the Heels rallied to score two runs and tie the game in the bottom of the inning. They then had to come back again in the 12th, this time scoring three runs. They finally won it in the 13th, keeping their season alive and advancing to Super Regionals.
Between that and the ACC Tournament run, it started to feel like UNC was a team of destiny. That especially felt like the case after what happened to start the College World Series.
In their opening game of the CWS, UNC lost to rival NC State. After staying alive with a win over LSU, the Heels got a rematch against State, who sent ace and current AL Cy Young contender Carlos Rodon. UNC proceeded to knock him out after just five innings. Meanwhile, their own starter, Hobbs Johnson, went 8.1 innings as UNC eventually won 7-0.
That mean just two wins over UCLA were all that stood in the way of returning to the championship series. The Bruins did not get a national seed at the start of the tournament, meaning, in theory, the Heels should be the favorites.
In one of the more galling UNC sporting events, UCLA held UNC to just one run. Even that came in the ninth inning, when it was too little too late. The Bruins ended what should’ve been a legendary season with a 4-1 victory over Carolina. The Heels ended the season with a 59-12 record.
Now eight years later, the two schools will face off again. Neither had quite as good a season as they had back in 2013, but it’s still a chance to get some revenge for one of the most annoying sporting events in recent memory.