Home > Sports > UNC baseball: Undone by karma (and some poor fielding)

UNC baseball: Undone by karma (and some poor fielding)

Like a number of Carolina fans, I turned on ESPN last night to watch UNC take on Oregon State in the final game of the College World Series. And like probably 98% of the same fans, I was watching only my second or third game of the season. See, we’re a basketball school, first and foremost. Then, when it’s convenient or when the team isn’t god-awful, a football program. We moonlight at soccer. We vacation with baseball.

And how fitting that during the summer doldrums (the “dead period” for many sports fans between the Final 4 in April and the beginning of the NFL season in September), UNC baseball gives us a shot in the arm. With an undefeated run through regionals and the first few CWS games, UNC won the first game of the finals and held a 5-0 lead in the second.

Then the wheels came off.

I watched last night’s game with a mixture of tension and confusion. Sure, I wanted UNC to win, but I couldn’t get over how A) Oregon State seemed overmatched yet confident, and B) how UNC’s ineptitude in the field was going to keep the Beavers in the game. The game had weird ebbs and flows, but it all culminated before the top of the 9th, when ESPN brought out the equivalent of a karmic sledghammer.

OSU was playing for more than pride. They were also playing for Jonathan Casey, the son of OSU coach Pat Casey. Jonathan, 21, is brain-damaged, but he’s been adopted by the Corvallis sports community. He leads the basketball team onto the court as a student trainer. He works at various community centers as a volunteer. And of course, he was there in Omaha, rooting on his dad’s team.

So, ESPN does the ultra-emotional feature story. Cue the fade-ins and outs. Bring in the emotional music. All it needed was a cut to Bryan Gumbel scribbling notes as the camera zooms in on his Real Sports set. (And if there is a funnier moment on HBO, I dare you to name it… I LOVE that move. What the hell is he writing? How pretentious can you be, Bryant?)

Now, I’m not saying it’s not a worthy story. But how in the world did figure out to show it going into the 9th? In a 2-2 game? With the CWS title on the line? How did they not show that during Game 1 or 2? Game 3 was never guaranteed. Regardless,at that moment, I got off of the Tar Heels bandwagon. Because at that point, we were on the karma train. And it was headed to Oregon.

It’s funny, but I felt like a total prick for wanting my alma mater to win. If the Beavers won, I’d feel good for Jonathan and the rest of the community. If they lost, well UNC would have another NCAA title, but I’d feel like crap. (By the way, if they had shown the same feature after the last TV timeout of a Final 4 game featuring my Heels, I shudder to think just how dismissive I would be of this inspirational story.)

So, anyway, Carolina just chokes the game away. Part of me wants to believe that UNC watched the feature privately before taking the field and just threw the game. Another part of me wants to believe that the folks at Disney (who own ESPN) made a backroom deal with UNC (“throw the game, and you’ll get the new Michael Eisner annex to the business school”).

Ultimately, it was four errors, some atrocious baserunning and a general meltdown that caused the Heels to lose the game. Oh well, at least ESPN got an Emmy-worthy feature out of it. Jonathan and his entire community got a well-earned win. And the Tar Heels got an off-season full of what-ifs.

Now, when does the NFL season start?

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