UNC (47-8, 21-7 ACC) honored its seniors prior to what head coach Mike Fox labeled an "incredible game." The competitive contest remained tied for most of the afternoon, including late-inning heroics by the Tar Heels to force extra innings at 4-4.
"When you have even teams it's going to come down to one play, one pitch and if you make it you win and if you don't you lose," Fox said. "There's that thin line between winning and losing. You saw it today."
The discrepancy between possible victory and defeat came with Chris Munnelly on the mound with two Cavalier baserunners on and no outs.
Virginia's Nate Irving elected to drop a sacrifice bunt down. Munnelly hurriedly corralled the ball, but Colin Moran was unable to secure the throw, allowing Nick Howard to score from second. The error gave UVa a 5-4 lead and runners at the corners with no outs.
Moments later, another small yet impactful mistake occurred at third base. Munnelly attempted to pick off Virginia's Reed Gragnani, but the throw to third caught both Moran and Gragnani off guard and the Tar Heels were unable to notch the pivotal first out of the inning.
"I think we would have picked the guy off because Munnelly has a great pickoff move to third, but Moran didn't get it," Fox said. "I really think we could have picked that guy off and that was their eighth run."
The error by Moran fueled an inning in which the Cavaliers would post three more runs on the board. Virginia shortstop John LaPrise drove in two runs with an RBI triple. Jared King then proceeded to drive in LaPrise with an RBI single to tally up the four-run advantage.
Fox felt that particular stretch was the turning point in the contest.
"The game could have been different if we weren't down four but we just don't make a play at third," Fox said. "That's the toughest part to handle out of every pitch that was made today."
The Tar Heels weren't willing to just accept the defeat. Both Mike Zolk and Parks Jordan hit singles to get on base for UNC in the bottom of the 11th. Landon Lassiter drove in a run and avoided an out at first to cut the Cavalier lead to 8-5. From there, Colin Moran delivered on call and drove in a run to slice the deficit to two.
"My kids aren't going to quit," Fox said. "We try to have those kind of kids in there that just play to the very last pitch."
With two runners on and one out, the stage was set for Skye Bolt, the freshman from Georgia. From the right side of the plate, the switch-hitting rookie drilled one to deep left field that looked as though it had the potential to leave Boshamer Stadium and send the Tar Heels to victory.
It came up just a few inches short.
"It was everything I had but I just didn't hit it far enough," Bolt told reporters following the game. "It's a game of inches."
The late rally from the Tar Heels wasn't enough on Saturday, but Fox and his staff aren't worried about the loss in light of the success of the season as a whole.
"It's just the nature of baseball," Fox said. "We're all going to start over on May 31st. Everyone is going to start a clean slate after next weekend."
The Tar Heels will face Florida State Monday at 6 p.m. in Boshamer Stadium in their final game of the regular season.