Tar Heels fall short again in Omaha to end season
North Carolina set a school record for wins, won a conference championship and made another trip to the College World Series.
The Tar Heels also fell short of an NCAA championship once again.
North Carolina (59-12) lost to UCLA 4-1 in Omaha, Neb., on Friday night to close the year. It marked the sixth time in eight seasons the Tar Heels had reached the final stop in the NCAA tournament, yet they've been unable to break through and win their first title.
Despite that sting, coach Mike Fox said after the loss that it had been one of his most fun seasons as a coach.
"There's going to be great memories for me and I'm sure the players," he said. "I hope people on the outside remember we were a pretty good team as well."
The Tar Heels accomplished plenty in Fox's 15th season here. They started 39-2, carried a No. 1 ranking most of the season and never lost consecutive games.
They won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament title, the latter secured in part because of a memorable 18-inning win against rival North Carolina State.
They earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history. They reached Omaha by winning the third game in the super regional series against South Carolina, which won the NCAA title in 2010 and 2011 to go with a runner-up finish in 2012.
But the Tar Heels couldn't complete their title push. They fell to rival N.C. State in its CWS opener, then beat LSU and won a rematch with the Wolfpack before losing a game that sent the Bruins to the championship series.
"They've been fun," Fox said. "Just they like one another and practice was fun and everything we did was just a blast. And we didn't, we didn't have any cliques. We didn't have any turmoil. We didn't have anything. It was a coach's dream. ... You get teams like that occasionally, and I felt very fortunate to be a part of it — small part."
Fox has said previously he wouldn't consider a season a failure if his team didn't win a national title. The Tar Heels came close in 2006, winning the first game of the best-of-3 championship series against Oregon State and leading 5-0 in the fourth inning of the second game before losing twice to finish second.
UNC was the runner-up to Oregon State again in 2007 in a 57-win season that previously stood as the program's best. The Tar Heels haven't reached the final series since.
"So sorry for our season to come to an end, but I'm glad it ended here at Omaha," Fox said. "That's for sure."
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.