Originally posted on Fox Sports Carolinas  |  Last updated 6/21/13
After No. 1 overall seed North Carolina (59-12) saw its season end with a 4-1 loss to UCLA on Friday night, it was perhaps the UCLA (47-17) head coach John Savage quote that summed up the Tar Heels year the best:Whenever you win that many games, you dont lose a lot, Savage said.Its a bit of a Yogi Berra-ism, yes. But the Tar Heels didnt lose a lot. And when they did, they didnt go down easily.The same was true on Friday night. With their bats befuddled by UCLA starter Grant Watson (9-3) for most of the night, UNC was able to put together a rally that very nearly got them over the hump in the ninth inning, loading the bases twice (once with no outs). Oh, and they did it against UCLA closer David Berg, who had an 0.87 ERA coming in.Considering how little UCLA was giving up defensively, and considering who was on the mound, it would have been understandable if the Tar Heels had felt like they were already defeated. But that isnt in their nature, and it hasnt been all season.You saw it in the ninth inning, UNC head coach Mike Fox said. Its something you just dont coach. Its within your team. Were not going down. Were going to keep fighting.This is, after all, the same team that overcame a 7-2 deficit in the ninth inning against Clemson in the ACC Tournament not long ago. And its the same team that came back twice in the same game against Florida Atlantic when down to its last set out of outs. Once, it was in the ninth inning to tie the game. And then it was a 12th-inning rally later from three down.And so when UNC loaded the bases with no outs, it felt like it was almost preordained that the Heels would get the four runs necessary to tie the game. Heck, they might have even gotten five runs. It felt inevitable. Its just what the Tar Heels do.At that point, it was do or die. We either did it or didnt. Weve been doing it all year, especially late in the season. Especially the seniors, with me and Chaz (Frank), we just didnt want it to end there, Cody Stubbs, who got the first hit of the ninth inning, said. But we werent going down without a fight. That wasnt going to happen.And perhaps Franks at-bat -- the last of his North Carolina career, and the second-to-last at-bat of North Carolinas season -- symbolized that fight best of all. He came up to the plate with two down, and he knew he could potentially represent his teams last chance.Frank was 0-for-4 on the day, and he faced a 1-2 count just three pitches in to the at-bat. He was down to his last strike, and his teams last strike. He took two balls to make it 3-2, fouled off a pitch and then took ball four to earn the walk. It must have been almost impossible to have the kind of discipline it took for him to lay off after he was down to his last strike of his teams last out with men on base. But he did, and he loaded the bases for the last -- and final -- time.Freshman Landon Lassiter, who was 3-for-4 before that at-bat, was up next, and even then, it still felt possible somehow. But he flew out for out No. 3, and UCLA advanced to the Championship Series.UNC starter Kent Emanuel is a pretty good symbol of the Tar Heels fight, too. The junior lefty had not pitched all that well in the postseason, and he was rocked in the CWS opener against N.C. State. He did not want his recent postseason history to repeat itself. And it didnt.Emanuel worked six solid innings and allowed just five hits, one earned run and struck out seven. And of the five hits, at least three werent very hard-hit balls -- they just found the gap. Which is, as Emanuel said, just baseball.Fox has showed an unwavering belief in his ace, so much so that he was criticized for bringing Emanuel in for a relief appearance against Florida Atlantic in the Regionals just a few days after his last start.Emanuel hadnt quite been the same since, but both he and Fox insisted it was a control issue rather than fatigue. Fox still never backed off of using Emanuel in important situations, even after he had a few bad starts in a row.But whatever the issue was, it was fixed on Friday night. And the Houston Astros' third-round pick in the MLB Draft this year looked like himself again in what will likely be his final game in a Tar Heel uniform.The rumors of (Emanuels) arm being dead, overused, ruined -- whatever the adjective you want to use -- were certainly greatly over-exaggerated, Fox said. The kid is one of the toughest pitchers weve had in our program, and he showed that tonight. I thought he pitched exceptionally well and gave us a chance to win.Thats the way hes pitched for us his whole career. Im glad he chose us, came to North Carolina, and we wouldnt be here without him and we wouldnt have been (to the College World Series) I dont think in 2011 without him. Hes a stud.The No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament has won the College World Series just once since the Tournament changed its format in 1999. And North Carolina was the latest victim, as was the ACC as a league, which hasnt won a title since 1955. (In case you missed the 800th shot of the Wake Forest 1955 national championship team photo during the telecast.)But this years North Carolina team set the school record for wins (59) and certainly dont have anything to hang their heads about.I just hope people will look and say we obviously won 59 games, but we really played hard, Fox said. Hopefully, people feel like we played hard every game and represented college athletics and college baseball the right way... So many special things went on throughout our season. Theyre going to be great memories for me and Im sure the players. I hope people on the outside will remember we were a pretty good team as well.
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