The North Carolina baseball team saw its season come to an end Monday afternoon in a 12-5 loss to Long Beach State in the Gainesville regional. The Tar Heels finished 2014 with a 35-27 record.
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The Tar Heels’ season barely lasted into June as Carolina failed to reach the Super Regionals in the NCAA Tournament for just the second time since 2005.
Fittingly, a couple of the season’s recurring themes emerged again to lead to UNC’s demise once play resumed Monday at McKethan Stadium after torrential rains on Sunday led to postponement.
First, Carolina’s defense proved unable to find strike three. Time after time, no matter the pitcher on the mound, the Dirtbags would find a way to scratch and claw their way out of two strike territory, paying off with huge dividends in the latter stages of the elimination showdown.
Additionally, the Tar Heel bats failed to apply consistent pressure on the Dirtbag defense. The Carolina offense was erratic at best. Too many swings on first pitches resulted in quick outs and warp-speed innings.
A big ballpark with a center field that seemed more like a black hole, swallowing up any balls hit with authority, didn’t help the Tar Heel cause either.
Meanwhile, the Dirtbags handled Carolina pitcher Spencer Trayner with ease, spurting out to a 7-4 lead in the seventh inning. Benton Moss relieved Trayner and started off in a promising manner by stymieing the Long Beach attack. What’s more, Carolina tacked on a run to inch within a pair of scores at 7-5.
But the ninth inning slammed the door on the Tar Heel postseason hopes as the Dirtbag bats came alive as the lead ballooned out to an insurmountable 12-5 margin.
Despite the struggles this season, Head Coach Mike Fox says he never felt his team lost confidence or belief in its ability to win.
“I don’t think our confidence has ever wavered. We’ve been knocked down some, but I never sensed that we didn’t have confidence. We could win, play well and reach our goals,” Coach Fox says.
One bright spot for Carolina was Michael Russell. Russell played despite being struck in the head by a fastball Saturday night against Florida. Russell toughed it out and finished his strong junior season with a team-leading .339 batting average that included 20 doubles and four home runs.
Next season, most of the arms will be returning, but an infusion of offensive firepower will be needed if another trip to Omaha is to be in the cards in 2015.