Baseball season ends in heartbreak for Pirates, Tar Heels

The state’s two remaining baseball teams saw their CWS dreams die with walk-off losses

UNC's Johnny Castagnozzi reacts as Arkansas celebrates in the background following Sunday's super regional game in Chapel Hill. (Karl B DeBlaker / AP Photo)

The college baseball season ended two weeks early for schools in the state of North Carolina. While the state has sent teams to Omaha for two of the last three College World Series’ (UNC in 2018 and NC State in 2021), North Carolina’s final two teams were both eliminated in super regionals that they hosted last weekend.

“We let it slip away”

East Carolina was the No. 8 national seed in the NCAA Tournament and won its regional in Greenville, earning the Pirates the right to host No. 9 Texas. It was the second time ECU has hosted a super regional and the first time the Pirates have done so on campus at Clark-LeClair Stadium.

The Pirates got off on the right foot, batting around while scoring five runs in the eighth inning to pull away in the opening game, 13-7.

In Game 2, East Carolina again battled from behind after giving up two first-inning runs to Texas. The Pirates rode another five-run inning, this time in the fifth, to lead the Longhorns 7-2 heading into the seventh inning stretch. ECU was counting outs as its first trip to the College World Series appeared to be getting closer.

East Carolina’s C.J. Mayhue throws a pitch during Sunday’s super regional game against Texas in Greenville. The Longhorns won the series to advance to the College World Series. (Matt Kelley / AP Photo)

It was Texas’ turn to rally, however. The Longhorns scored two in the seventh and four in the eighth. After ECU tied the score at eight in the top of the ninth inning, Texas got a walk-off bases-loaded single in the bottom of the ninth to even the super regional at one game apiece and force a winner-take-all third game on Sunday.

It was more adversity for an ECU team that battled to stay around .500 early in the season, then saw its 20-game winning streak snapped as it was sent to the losers bracket in the previous week’s regional.

“Everybody thought we were going to win 23 straight, and we were going to walk right into the College World Series, and that just doesn’t happen,” said ECU coach Cliff Godwin. “That’s not the way this thing works. The first time you go, it’s going to be really difficult.”

For the third straight game, ECU fell behind Texas early as the Longhorns scored four first inning runs in Sunday’s game and never looked back. For the three-game series, Texas had eight runs in the first inning.

The Longhorns added five runs in the second inning and cruised to Omaha with an 11-1 win in the deciding game.

“Yesterday was our day to do it, and we let it slip away,” Godwin said. “We just didn’t play quite good enough. These young men do it the right way. I don’t care if I don’t ever coach in the College World Series as a head coach, that’s not my job. My job is to develop young men and make them into better people. … It hurts. Wish I could’ve done more. Bad stuff happens to good people every single day. We’re going to keep knocking on the door until we knock it down.”

“It’s just baseball. It’ll rip your heart out.”

Over in Chapel Hill, the ending was just as crushing for the No. 10 national seed Tar Heels. UNC hosted Arkansas looking to advance to its 12th College World Series and fourth in the last 11 years.

Arkansas snapped a scoreless tie in the fifth inning of the opener with a first-pitch home run. The Razorbacks scored three in the inning, which was enough to hold up in a 4-1 opening game win. That set up a win-or-go-home game for the Tar Heels.

“I feel like we’ve been playing with our backs against the wall for as long as I can remember,” said Tar Heels shortstop Danny Serretti.

“At the end of the day, you just have to come out tomorrow, you have to fight, and you have to play,” said UNC coach Scott Forbes.

The fight went down to the wire, as the Tar Heels again fell behind in Game 2, trailing Arkansas 2-0 before tying the score with two seventh inning runs. UNC then took its first lead of the series when Patrick Alvarez singled home Tomas Frick in the ninth. Arkansas responded with two runs in its half of the ninth, however, securing a trip to Omaha with a walk-off RBI single.

“It was a rollercoaster of emotions for a number of different reasons,” said Serretti. “It’s just baseball, I guess. It’ll rip your heart out. You can feel on top of the world 30 minutes ago and then feel like garbage now.”

UNC finished its season with a 42-22 record. ECU finished with a 46-21 mark.