There were equal parts disappointment and pride in baseball coach Mike Fox’s voice following North Carolina’s season-ending 4-1 loss to UCLA in the College World Series.
“The end of the year just — it always stinks,” Fox said. “But it’s just been a great pleasure for me personally.
“And it’s because of these guys up here and the rest of the guys in that dugout.”
Despite high expectations surrounding the team, UNC wasn’t able to cash in on its dream of winning the program’s first-ever NCAA title.
But UNC’s season was not a failure by any stretch of the imagination. At 59-12, the 2013 team was the winningest in program history. The Tar Heels won the ACC tournament, and they were the only team in the country not to suffer a losing streak.
The Tar Heels also made the trip to Omaha, Neb., after missing the College World Series a year ago.
“(I’m) so sorry for our season to come to an end, but I’m glad it ended here in Omaha,” Fox said. “That’s for sure.”
A blazing start
The Tar Heels were a confident team going into the season — and for good reason.
They were ranked No. 1 in the country by Baseball America. They returned their entire weekend rotation from 2012, had a future first-round pick in slugger Colin Moran and brought in a strong recruiting class that included standouts Skye Bolt, Trent Thornton and Landon Lassiter.
“We’re going to Omaha,” catcher Matt Roberts said a week before the season began. “There’s no question about it.”
Before long, the Tar Heels became the consensus No. 1 team in the country as they rattled off 16 wins in a row to start the season, and by April 21, they had a 39-2 record.
But that near-perfect level of success wouldn’t continue as UNC faced tougher opponents at the end of the season in Georgia Tech and Virginia — both of whom beat UNC.
“No one is going to remember how you start the season,” Fox said in March. “They are going to remember how you finish it.”
From the ACC tournament on, UNC played 18 total extra innings. It began in an ACC tournament bout with Clemson, in which UNC rallied to tie the game with a five-run ninth and packed on five more to win in the 14th.
It continued the next night against N.C. State when UNC edged the Wolfpack 2-1 in an 18-inning pitchers’ duel.
And in the Chapel Hill Regional, UNC found itself facing extras again, overcoming a ninth-inning grand slam and a 12th-inning three-run home run to beat Florida Atlantic.
“I think it’s just — we don’t want to lose,” junior Brian Holberton said after the win against Clemson. “We’re on the field — we might as well go out there and win.”
The Tar Heels won five elimination games during their postseason journey.
They barely edged Super Regional foe South Carolina, scraping by with a 5-4 victory.
Then, in Omaha, they found themselves in the losers’ bracket after losing their opening game N.C. State.
But UNC won two more games with its back against the wall, beating Louisiana State and getting revenge on the Wolfpack with a 7-0 win.
The Tar Heels couldn’t continue the magic against UCLA, but Fox said he still considered the season’s team one of his most special — mainly because of the type of people on it.
“We didn’t have any cliques. We didn’t have any turmoil,” Fox said. “It was a coach’s dream.
“This might be one of the best rides we’re ever going to be on as a coaching staff.”
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