After an up and down regular season, North Carolina baseball got their NCAA Tournament off to a perfect start on Friday night. Thanks to a good game at the plate from Will Stewart and a good game on the mound by Austin Love, the Heels beat UCLA 5-4 to move into the winner’s bracket at the Lubbock Regional.
With the win, UNC was just a couple more away a return trip to Super Regionals. Unfortunately in a brutal fashion, that did not happen.
In the winner’s bracket, Carolina was set to face off against hosts and #8 overall seed Texas Tech.
It didn’t take particularly long for the Red Raiders to get on the board, as UNC starter Gage Gillian allowed a two-run homer with just one out recorded in the top of the first. Carolina got a run back in the second third innings to even the score, before Tech retook the lead in the fifth. A very strange situation then arose as the Heels tried to come back again in the sixth.
With nobody out and Caleb Roberts on first after a walk, Mac Horvath hit a ball to the wall in left that hit the top of the wall. After likely initially thinking the ball was gone for a home run, Horvath was thrown out trying to get to second, with Roberts getting held up at third. Two separate reviews were then held for the play. The first decided that it wasn’t a home run, and the second confirmed that Horvath was out at second. Neither of the next two hitters could bring Roberts home, as UNC missed out on a chance to at least tie the game.
After that, the Red Raiders scored another four unanswered runs, putting the game out of reach and dooming UNC to a rematch with UCLA.
With many of the Heels’ key pitchers having appeared in the first two games, UNC were up against it in the elimination game, and things went south pretty quickly.
The Bruins put up five runs in the top of the first inning, knocking Carolina starter Connor Ollio out after just one-third of an inning. With a couple more inning, that UCLA lead grew to 10-0, and that was pretty much that. UNC did end up picked up a couple runs, but by then it was way too little, too late. The Bruins came away with a 12-2 win, eliminated Carolina from the tournament.
Thus ends a really weird season on the field for UNC in what had to be a weird season off the field. They finished up the season at 28-27, but did so against a fairly strong slate that was basically two-thirds all ACC teams. There were some high highs and some low lows.
After nearly all of the 2020 season getting wiped out, it was nice to just see the Diamond Heels back on the field this year.