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Hatters’ Historic Season Ends with 7-5 Loss to UNC

Chapel Hill, N.C. – In the end, it just wasn’t meant to be.

The Stetson Hatters saw their historic – unprecedented – 2018 baseball season come to an end on Saturday at North Carolina’s Boshamer Stadium in a 7-5 loss to the Tar Heels.

Teammates come out of dugout to congratulate Meola

Teammates congratulate Jonathan Meola after he put Stetson on the board in the second inning with a solo home run Saturday against the Tar Heels. See a Photo Gallery.

Just like in Friday’s series opening loss, the Hatters had exactly what they wanted in the final inning, with senior captain Brooks Wilson at the plate representing the go-ahead, or winning run. Friday’s game ended on a long fly ball to left. On Saturday, it was a fly ball to the deepest part of the park.

Both shots came up just short of giving the Hatters a victory, but neither left any room for regret.

Stetson finishes its season with a 48-13 mark, tying for the most wins in a season in school history. North Carolina, which came into the weekend riding a 16-game home win streak, improved to 43-18. The Tar Heels, seeded sixth in the NCAA Tournament, advance to their 11th appearance in the College World Series.

The Tar Heels came out swinging early on Saturday, jumping on Stetson starter Jack Perkins (11-3) for four runs on six hits in the first inning while sending nine batters to the plate. UNC had three of its four doubles in the inning, with run-scoring hits from Cody Roberts, Brandon Riley, Zack Gahagan and Ashton McGee.

Andrew MacNeil swings with the ball just inches from his bat.

Sophomore Andrew MacNeil scored two runs for the Hatters on Saturday.

Stetson continued to struggle with runners in scoring position. After getting just one hit in 11 tries on Friday with scoring chances, the Hatters were four-for-11 on Saturday.

Jonathan Meola got Stetson on the board in the second inning with a solo home run to right off UNC starter Gianluca Dalatri. It was the first home run of the year for the junior.

North Carolina came right back in the third, plating two more runs and chasing Perkins from the game. Singles by Ike Freeman and Gahagan set the stage for McGee’s second run scoring hit of the game.

With two on and one out, Mitchell Senger came on in relief for Stetson. He got a pair of fly ball outs to end the inning, but the first plated a run for a 6-1 UNC lead.

Stetson came back with a pair of runs of their own in the bottom of the inning when the Hatters loaded the bases on consecutive one-out hits from Andrew MacNeilMike Spooner and Jacob Koos. Wilson plated a pair of runs with a hot smash over the bag at first, cutting the UNC lead to 6-3.

Dalatri squelched any further hopes for the Hatters in the frame, getting a strikeout and a ground ball to end the inning.

Stetson threatened again in the fourth, chasing Dalatri from the game. Left-hander Caden O’Brien (6-0) came on to face MacNeil at the top of the order and got some help when Kyle Ball was called for interference at second base on MacNeil’s ground ball, resulting in an inning-ending double play.

The Tar Heels plated what turned out to be a big insurance run in the sixth inning off Senger, who worked 5.1 innings behind Perkins, allowing just the one run on five hits with four strikeouts. Brandon Martorano opened the inning with a double to left center, moved to third on a single through the right side and then scored on a perfectly executed squeeze bunt by Roberts.

MacNeil got that run back in the seventh, blasting a solo homer off the third UNC pitcher – Brett Daniels.

Daniels was still on the mound in the ninth when Austin Hale opened the inning with a double to right center. After Ball and MacNeil were retired, Spooner singled Hale home, cutting the deficit to 7-5. Jacob Koos followed with a hit to bring Wilson to the plate as the potential winning run.

UNC made the call for closer Josh Hiatt to come in to face Wilson despite the fact that he threw 50 pitches on Friday. Wilson got the pitch he was looking for, lifting a fly ball deep to center, but Riley was able to haul it in just in front of the 400 sign to send UNC to Omaha.

MacNeil led the Hatters’ 13-hit attack with three hits while Spooner, Koos and Meola had two each. Freeman led UNC, which had 14 hits in the game, with three. Kyle Datres, Michael Busch, Gahagan and McGee had two each for the Tar Heels, who will face off against the winner of the Oregon State-Minnesota Super Regional in the opening round of the College World Series.

For several of the Hatters – seniors Wilson, Hale, Nico Torino and Ben Onyshko as well as junior draftees Logan GilbertJack Perkins and Joey Gonzalez – it was likely the last time they will wear the Stetson uniform. But that group, and the rest of the 2018 team, will go down as the greatest team Stetson baseball has ever seen.

No one can take that away from them.

-Ricky Hazel