With every bit of adversity the North Carolina baseball team faced this season, the Diamond Heels always seemed to find a way to overcome.
Yet, when the team needed to engineer one more escape out of trouble, the once-fitted parts no longer conjoined. With its failure to complete a late-game rally, UNC lost the NCAA Chapel Hill Super Regional to Arkansas in two games, losing 4-3 on Sunday in walk-off fashion.
In early February, the Diamond Heels were picked to finish ninth in the ACC’s preseason poll. Expectations for North Carolina were at a minimum and the postseason seemed to be well out of the realm of possibility.
But rather than heed such projections, the Diamond Heels flipped the script.
“Way back in the preseason nobody on the outside had expectations or thought they’d get anywhere,” UNC head coach Scott Forbes said. “But, they did.”
In its first 20 games, North Carolina ripped off 18 wins and climbed up to No. 13 in the nation.
However, by the midway point of the season, UNC found itself amidst a five-series losing streak. With every series defeat came a thinner line for North Carolina to tightrope along, as both berths into the ACC and NCAA tournaments were in jeopardy.
But again, the Diamond Heels found a way out.
After withstanding multiple weather delays against N.C. State, North Carolina snapped its skid against its archrival in a 7-6 win on the road to clinch the rivalry victory. Two weeks later, the Diamond Heels were on a three-series win streak, which was capped off by a sweep over then-No. 20 Florida State — the preseason favorite to win the ACC.
With every victory came increased confidence, as well as a will to win each remaining game.
“To no surprise, they fought until the end,” Forbes said. “That’s something this team has done from the first pitch this season.”
In a short time, the Diamond Heels found themselves two wins shy from the NCAA Men’s College World Series after scampering their way out of the loser’s bracket in the regional round.
But in UNC’s way stood a new test — the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Donning cardinal red and backed by an energized fanbase, Arkansas posed the perfect combination of SEC pedigree and postseason experience to throw any team off its game.
And if that alone wasn’t enough of a challenge for the Diamond Heels, a pair of weather delays on Sunday left an already battered North Carolina bullpen scraping for every pitch.
In the top of the ninth inning, sophomore Patrick Alvarez laced an RBI single to center field to give the Diamond Heels their first lead of the weekend, 3-2.
As Boshamer Stadium erupted, it appeared the Diamond Heels were going to break through and beat the odds once again.
However, Arkansas senior designated hitter Brady Slavens had other plans.
After loading the bases with no outs, graduate center fielder Braydon Webb drove in the tying run for Arkansas. One at-bat later, Slavens scaled the baseball up the middle of the field for a base hit.
As Slaven’s hit trickled through the infield, the Diamond Heels watched their season slip away.
“It’s just baseball, I guess,” junior shortstop Danny Serretti said. “It’ll rip your heart out. You can feel on top of the world 30 minutes ago, and then feel like garbage now.”
And as the Razorback dugout stormed and dogpiled in the same gap that just doomed North Carolina’s season, all the Diamond Heels could do was watch.
They watched as, for what felt like the first time all season, adversity finally got the best of UNC. Still, it was a game only the Diamond Heels themselves believed they would be playing all along.
“I wouldn’t replace this year for the world,” first-year center fielder Vance Honeycutt said. “I’m very thankful.”