The UNC baseball season is over. I hate that, Ill admit.
Just like the players on the team, I hate to lose.
With the College World Series yet to be played, and without a Carolina team in Omaha, Im already looking to next year.
Before I do that, Id like to recall the kind of team Carolina produced this spring.
Quality players, notably Michael Morin and Jacob Stallings, will leave the program.
Their contributions are hard to measure.
Morin set a school record for saves in a single season, with 19, and was named an All-American.
Stallings was named the teams Most Dedicated Player two years in a row.
After the Tar Heels last home game, I overheard a conversation a fan had with Stallings father.
The man congratulated the senior Stallings on his sons accomplishments at UNC.
Thank you, but he got a lot more than he gave, Kevin Stallings said.
Certainly hes a quality player and a more special young man.
This years team was indeed a resilient bunch.
More than a handful of players had to adapt to the up-and-down nature of the long season, moving up and down in the pecking order toward starting, learning their roles or finding a place in the pitching hierarchy.
The injury to Colin Moran jolted the team, forcing a number of players mostly freshmen to step up.
And things changed mightily when Moran returned.
What happened then to Shell McCain and Mike Zolk, when their playing time dwindled?
They stayed ready kept their heads in the game as if they knew theyd get another chance.
They did, and Carolina was the better for it.
It was McCain who had the shaky start at third base, but who came back later as designated hitter and right fielder to launch home runs in games when other UNC hitters were dormant.
And it was Zolk, after disappearing as starting second baseman, who performed well as a pinch hitter on more than one occasion.
It was also Adam Griffin coming back from an illness and early-season injury who also played well in right field.
Add the name Michael Russell, who started in the outfield, moved to third and later to shortstop, performing well at each.
These were all freshmen position players.
Add the stellar first year of freshman pitcher Benton Moss, who moved up and down in the rotation before he ended up as a weekend starter, with a 1.94 ERA.
He was named a member of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Freshman All-America Team.
But it is the Hobbs Johnson story that is most seared into my memory and the one Ill carry into next year.
Last season, I remember liking this left-handed pitchers name and his style.
Watching him recalled for me my own playing days, decades ago.
In 2011, Johnson started out as a reliever. What I didnt know until this season was that, at this time last year, he teetered on being cut from the team.
With academic woes, he watched from his apartment as the team journeyed to Omaha and the College World Series.
He redoubled his efforts academically and rejoined the team for this season.
Ultimately he became a weekend starter. He ended up with a 7-1 record.
He shared the Walter Rabb Award with Parks Jordan as the teams Most Improved Player.
After attending 44 UNC games this season, Im a bit exhausted, but I do look ahead with enthusiasm to 2013.
Certainly there are unproven recruits champing at the bit, but with the 2012 freshmen Kent Emmanuel and Hobbs Johnson a season older, how could you not be excited?
Dan Leigh (UNC Class of 69) is a former writer for The News and now lives in Chapel Hil. He was a member of the Tar Heel baseball team in 1966-67.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published, broadcast or redistributed in any manner.