OMAHA, Neb. — One of North Carolina’s best seasons in school history ended with the bases loaded in the ninth inning on Friday. It was fitting for a couple of reasons.
For one, the Tar Heels gave themselves a chance before suffering a 4-1 defeat against UCLA in the College World Series. More fitting, though, at least for how things went Friday, is that those base runners remained stranded.
UNC throughout the season was one of the best offensive teams in the nation. Yet the Tar Heels’ trip to Omaha ended amid plenty of frustration on offense – especially against left-handed pitching.
Outside of the 7-0 victory against N.C. State on Thursday, UNC struggled to score during its weeklong stay here. The Tar Heels scored one run in a loss against the Wolfpack on Sunday, and then scraped together four runs against LSU to stay alive before defeating N.C. State in a rematch.
UNC was headed toward its second shutout loss of the season until breaking through in the ninth inning against the Bruins. The Heels on Friday night stranded 10 runners against four UCLA pitchers.
Mike Fox, the UNC coach, attributed most of the Tar Heels’ offensive struggles to opposing pitching. But playing in the cavernous TD Ameritrade Park played a role, too.
“The ballpark’s the same for both teams, and it’s hard to score out here,” Fox said. “You saw how they got their four runs, and you’ve got to be a little lucky and you’ve got to be opportunistic and take advantage, and we didn’t do that tonight.”
The Tar Heels entered Friday night averaging more than seven runs per game. UCLA, meanwhile, was among the worst offensive teams in the country. But the Bruins came through with what UNC didn’t – namely clutch hits with runners on base.
UCLA scored twice against Kent Emanuel, the Tar Heels’ junior lefthander. Emanuel, the ACC Pitcher of the Year, provided his strongest start since the ACC tournament. He had failed to make it past the third inning in each of his past two starts.
“Rumors of Kent’s arm being dead, overused, ruined, whatever the adjective you want to use, were certainly greatly over-exaggerated,” Fox said.
Emanuel, who pitched six innings, said he “felt fine all the time.”
He gave the Tar Heels a chance to win. But in a season filled with important, memorable hits, UNC finally ran out of them on Friday.
Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter