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The Daily Tar Heel

'Like your family': One bad inning creates emotional end to UNC baseball season

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UNC baseball players celebrate after winning the final game of the regional championship. UNC beat Tennessee 5-2.

"The last day," head coach Mike Fox said, "is always sad."

Michael Busch and Aaron Sabato, stalwarts all year long for the North Carolina baseball team, will attest: the last day is always sad. After the Tar Heels' season-ending 14-7 loss to Auburn in the Chapel Hill Super Regional, both players were, understandably, visibly upset.

"That series, it was tough," Busch said. That was as far as he got before trailing off, overcome by emotion. Busch, a first-round pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers in last week's MLB Draft, likely played his last game in a Tar Heel jersey on Monday.

The team had forced a Game 3 the day prior, shutting out the Tigers in a complete 2-0 win. But much like the Game 1 loss on Saturday, in which Auburn scored nine runs in the last two innings, one bad stretch of baseball cost the Tar Heels in Monday's rubber match. 

This time, it came in the first inning, a 13-run frame that lasted nearly an hour by itself. Nine of those Auburn scores came with two outs, and Fox burned through three pitchers, starting with sophomore Joey Lancellotti, before first-year Will Sandy got UNC out of the nightmare inning. 

"Joey Lancellotti's done it for us all year," Busch said. "That's a guy that we want on the mound, and he just didn't have it today."

The Tar Heels managed seven runs of their own throughout – a pair of Sabato home runs helped – but never quite matched that first-inning explosion from the Tigers.

That's frustrating. And season finales are emotional regardless. But at year's end, what was felt by UNC baseball seemed to go beyond the typical season-ending woe, beyond the ups and downs of 60-plus games together and a deflating blowout to top it off.

This team, to Fox, was "like your children. They're like your family."

"That's the hard part of coaching," the veteran skipper said. "Any coach will tell you, in any sport, the hard part is when you have a team you really love and you really enjoy, they're fun to be around and they keep you young and really make you still believe in coaching and why you do it."

And then, one day, whether your season ends in a Super Regional loss or a championship win, it has to come to a close.

"This team is why I do it," Fox said, continuing, "I want to keep being able to answer that question – why do I keep doing it? It's never been for the wins and losses. It's a big part of it obviously, but it's been because of (Busch and Sabato) and others."

A second straight appearance in the College World Series wasn't in the cards. But for Fox, the end of the season represented more than just a missed trip to Omaha, Neb..

"You always hate to see your family broken up," he said. "That's kind of what happens at the end of the year."


@DTHSports |

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