Sunday’s loss against UCLA that ended the UNC baseball team’s season and eliminated the team from the NCAA Tournament was a tough one to say the least.
After winning their first game of the Lubbock Regional, the Tar Heels dropped consecutive games against Texas Tech and the Bruins, but there are still plenty of positives to take away from the trying 2021 season.
In a challenging year, first-year head coach Scott Forbes is thankful for the opportunity that was presented to him and his team.
“I'm really proud of our team,” Forbes said. “If you look back at everything that happened over the last year, it is pretty amazing that we even had a college season, and I am thankful for that. I am thankful for our players and just so thankful for the opportunity I was given to lead these guys.”
The Tar Heels won their first matchup in the NCAA regionals against UCLA, but when the teams met again in an elimination game on Sunday, the Bruins dominated from the start. UCLA senior Zach Pettway tossed a complete game as his team's offense piled on the runs.
By the middle of fourth inning, the Bruins had a 10-run advantage, a lead that ultimately proved insurmountable for the Tar Heels.
Coming into the season, UNC had lower-than-average expectations considering the past success of their storied program, but they fought and earned one of the last four at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament when a lot of people were counting them out.
Throughout the season, Forbes had to rely on typical relief pitchers to give occasional starts. Senior Gage Gillian opened Saturday's game against Texas Tech after earning the save the night before against UCLA.
Gillian's outing showed the creativity that Forbes needed in order to piece together starts for the Tar Heels, especially after losing first-year Max Carlson and junior Joey Lancellotti — two key starters — early in the year.
“A lot went into it to be able to be ready to have a season and to find a way to get into the postseason when a lot of people didn’t think that we were going to be able to do that, even when we had our two pitchers,” Forbes said.
The Tar Heels were dealt a tough card this year, but they showed up ready to play in every game this season and their fight and determination as a team took them a long way.
Sophomore outfielder Caleb Roberts was proud of the grit that his team displayed on and off the diamond this year and the attitude that they took towards every game regardless of the opponent.
“With everything that went on and our season being cut short last year, we were just so thankful to be able to go play a full season,” Roberts said. “We weren’t sure if we were going to have games cut short, so we took pride in playing every game.”
The Tar Heels didn’t have a clear path of where they would wind up, after finishing the regular season around the middle of the pack in the ACC, but they did not let their tough losses hold them down.
The early elimination was tough to stomach for the Tar Heels, but they have a lot to build on going forward, especially considering the 31 underclassmen listed on their roster this year.
“We weren’t sure if we were going to make the tournament, but we were just happy that we made it and I felt like coming here was a really good experience for us and some of the younger guys,” Roberts said. “I will never forget playing here in Lubbock and I feel like this will really help our program in the future.”