"Awful," he said. "Absolutely awful."
What could have been a loss that spun the season out of control turned into a wakeup call for Fox and his team. Following the loss to the Bulldogs, UNC went on a five-game win streak while outscoring its opponents, 61-14. In the middle of that win streak on March 20 after a win over Maryland, Fox admitted he had issued a challenge to his team that turned its season around after the loss to Gardner-Webb.
"Look, you want to keep doing this," the head coach asked his players. "What kind of season do you want to have? Are we keep going to wallow in self-pity, or are we going to do something about it?"
Beginning on March 23, UNC ended the regular season with a 23-9 mark and captured its second consecutive ACC Coastal Division title. Fox was rewarded with his efforts by winning ACC Coach of the Year and four Tar Heels were All-ACC selections.
Third baseman Kyle Datres headlined that list as a First-Team selection. The junior hit .345 during the regular season and led the team in hits and doubles prior to the postseason. First baseman Michael Busch and outfielder Brandon Riley were Second-Team picks and shortstop Ike Freeman made the Third-Team.
Yet it was junior transfer Cooper Criswell who provided perhaps the biggest lift down the stretch. In the absence of a reliable staff ace, Criswell moved to the starting rotation in April and finished the season 6-2 with a 2.99 earned run average.
In the ACC Championship, UNC's bullpen failed to stymie the Pittsburgh bats and the Panthers eliminated the Tar Heels in their first game of the competition. However, UNC defeated Georgia Tech, 9-0, Friday and headed into NCAA Regional play with a 37-17 mark. Dalatri pitched against the Yellow Jackets in just his second start back from injury, posting five shutout innings for his first win of the season.
North Carolina hosted the Chapel Hill Regional for the second consecutive year. After failing to advance to the NCAA Super Regionals in 2017, UNC went 3-0 in 2018, including two wins over Houston.
In the NCAA Super Regionals against Stetson, the Tar Heels dominated a powerful pitching staff to the tune of 14 runs for the two-game sweep. With the win, UNC advanced to the College World Series for the first time since 2013 and it looked like the team might give Fox his first National Championship at UNC.
UNC defeated Oregon State, 8-6, in its first game of the College World Series as excitement continued to build around the team.
That feeling quickly vanished. Against Mississippi State, the Tar Heel pitching staff allowed 12 runs to leave UNC and Fox on the brink of elimination against a Beaver squad it had defeated four days before. Up 6-3 in the top of the eighth inning, UNC's bullpen unraveled, allowing eight runs in the final two frames to extinguish any hope of North Carolina winning the College World Series.
When outfielder Ashton McGee flew out to right field for the final out of the ninth inning, North Carolina players were left to walk off the field with their heads hung low in defeat.
Despite the final loss, UNC turned its season around and finished 2018 as one of the final eight teams standing — a feat Fox would have hoped for when the year started.
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