Oklahoma (47-15) won the Norman Regional on the arm of right-hander Bobby Shore (9-4), who was masterful in allowing two runs and four hits in 7.1 innings of work.
Seth Baldwin gave North Carolina (38-22) an early 1-0 lead with a RBI single to score Brian Goodwin, but Oklahoma took the lead with a pair of Danny Black RBI hits – a fourth-inning single and a sixth-inning double. Ryan Graepel drilled a ball over the left field wall in the bottom half of the sixth to knot the score at 2-2, but Oklahoma pushed the winning run over the plate in the seventh on Cody Reine's RBI single with two outs.
Michael Morin (5-3) picks up the loss in relief as five different Tar Heel pitchers took the mound. Jimmy Messer was solid in the start, allowing just one earned run and six hits in 4.0 innings.
It's unclear which statistic is more troubling – that UNC only left six runners on base in scoring two runs or that Oklahoma had two batters (Ricky Eisenberg, Cameron Seitzer) that each left five on base. In total, the Sooners left 15 runners on base.
Graepel, Brian Goodwin and Matt Harvey earned All-Region honors, while Shore took the Most Outstanding Award for his performance against North Carolina.
INSIDE THE GAME
Trouble at the Plate, Take 2
For the second night in a row, Oklahoma's starting pitcher rendered North Carolina's bat essentially useless. On Saturday, Zach Neal took a one-hitter into the sixth inning in giving up three earned runs on eight hits in 8.0 innings of work, mowing down 10 batters along the way.
Shore also took a one-hitter into the sixth inning on Sunday, but ultimately one-upped his teammate in allowing two fewer earned runs and four fewer hits.
"I found the zone," Shore told reporters during Oklahoma's postgame press conference. "I just went out there and I found the zone. You have to go out there and be confident and have no fear. I took it to heart and found that back-door slider and I was just hitting my spots and making sure the ball was down and making them hit ground balls."
Lost in the loss is the fact that North Carolina's staff day showing was phenomenal.
"Our pitching staff deserves a lot of credit because they only gave up three runs and whenever you only give up three runs you should win the game," Graepel said. "It is a great credit to their pitcher because he pitched a great game."
If North Carolina had somehow managed to scratch out enough runs to defeat Oklahoma on Sunday night, relief pitcher Colin Bates would have likely earned a highlight clip on SportsCenter for his efforts in the eighth and ninth innings.
Caleb Bushyhead tripled off Michael to start the eighth inning with the Sooners holding a 3-2 lead. Bates quickly entered the game and walked Chris Ellison on five pitches, giving Oklahoma runners on the corners with no outs. Bates then proceeded to pull out his Superman cape, needing just 10 pitches to strike out his next three batters.
One inning later, Bates encountered some trouble in allowing two base runners, but mowed down two more Sooners to strand a runner on third and keep his Tar Heels within clawing distance.
"Coming in a tough spot like that, I was just trying to attack the strike zone," Bates said. "Last night, I threw a lot of breaking balls and tonight I tried to attack them with more fast balls. I was trying to keep them off balance. The biggest thing was to try to keep our team in the game, trying to get strikeouts and trying to expand the strike zone."
Bates struck out five of the nine batters he faced, allowing just one hit in two innings of work.
The only team, in any sport, that is completely satisfied at the end of its season is the one that takes home the championship hardware. But to focus solely on trophies and titles is to miss the greater point with regard to college athletics.
Seven weeks ago, it seemed ludicrous to suggest that North Carolina would even be playing in the postseason. UNC was coming off a sweep down in Miami and stood at 22-16 (6-11 ACC).
Twenty-two games and sixteen victories later, the Tar Heels can say goodbye to the 2010 season with their heads held high and their eyes focused intently on the promise of 2011.
"I'm disappointed that our season is obviously over, but if you would have told me we would have been here a month ago, I would have told you we would have never made it this far," Fox said. "…I am real proud of our team in the way that we finished. We talk about character and those traits that you want your players and your teams to have and our team has it, so I'm very proud to be the coach."
There are a handful of players on this roster that wore the UNC uniform jersey for the last time on Sunday, names such as Ryan Graepel, Mike Cavasinni, Matt Harvey and Colin Bates.
"My career here has been up and down with injuries, but whether we lost tonight or made it to Omaha, I wouldn't take one thing back from playing at North Carolina," Cavasinni said. "The teams I played with, the players I played with and the friends I've made forever, that's something I am going to take with me for the rest of my life. This isn't the way we wanted our season to end, but I'm happy we made it here and I'm happy I had an extra weekend to play with these guys."