All good things come to an end. And that was just the case on Wednesday night as North Carolina baseball bowed out to Oregon State, closing out their season at 44-20.
I know this story is a few days late, but I just couldn’t find the words to say.
In my four years I’d seen UNC go from an overrated ACC squad, to a sputtering program in a power five conference, working back into relevance before proving they were indeed one of the best teams in the country.
It’s funny sometimes how things go. How it took the bottom falling out on a talented team in 2015 and 2016 to see the true colors and real shape of a team. The trials and tribulations just fueled the fire for the elder statesmen of this year’s team, and look at what they did.
No one believed in them. Catalyst shortstop Logan Warmoth and Friday night flame JB Bukauskas left. No one thought they could do it. Ace Gianluca Dalatri went down in early March. No one saw them making it to Omaha.
But they did.
Countless players stepped up and delivered for the Tar Heels this season. Any time they needed a big play, it was seemingly a different person delivering the blow.
Take Jackson Hesterlee for example. His first and only home run came on a pinch-hit, 0-2 grand slam to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth against Georgia Tech. It was a moment of sheer joy. A type of moment that this season was filled with.
From timely hitting by Michael Busch to sweet glovework by Zack Gahagan, this season really had it all. A slow start gave way to a steamroller stretch. Teams lept off the tracks as the Tar Heel express plowed through the ACC.
Ike Freeman filled a seemingly unfixable hole at shortstop left by Warmoth. Tyler Baum shined as a Friday night star no one expected. The bullpen rallied through some rough patches to ultimately become an anchor for UNC.
What. a. season.
A lot of Tar Heels got selected in the MLB draft a few weeks ago, showcasing the depth of their lineup. Junior pitcher Rodney Hutchison was the first Tar Heel off the board in 2018, going to the New York Yankees in the sixth round. He was followed by Cody Roberts - Baltimore Orioles - Round 11, Kyle Datres - Colorado Rockies - Round 12, Cooper Criswell - Los Angeles Angels - Round 13, Brandon Riley - St. Louis Cardinals - Round 14, Josh Hiatt - Toronto Blue Jays - Round 16, Brett Daniels - Houston Astros - Round 17, Austin Bergner - Arizona Diamondbacks - Round 32, Jason Morgan - Chicago White Sox - Round 35, Zack Gahagan - St. Louis Cardinals - Round 39.
So remember this team fondly, Tar Heel faithful, because we may see a whole new squad next year. Sure, Dalatri, Baum, Freeman, Busch, and numerous others will return, but we will never have another 2018 Diamond Heels.
Were they the most talented? No. Did they have the most heart? You betcha. These boys had something kinda like the 2016-17 UNC basketball team did, and that intangible is something that can’t be taught.
Excellent performance. Y’all will forever be remembered as the Tar Heel baseball team that put them back on the map. To the seniors, thank you for changing the culture, and restarting the engine. To the emotional leader, Kyle Datres, thank you for never giving up, regardless of the circumstance.
To the entire team. Thank you for entertaining us the last few months, and giving us Diamond Heels baseball in June. We’ll never forget you.