FAU’s season ends with 12-11 loss to top seeded North Carolina in 13 innings

Zack Kelberman

Outfielder Corey Keller hit a two-run home run in the second inning to start the Owls off. After 13 innings, FAU eventually fell to UNC 12-11. Photo by Michelle Friswell.
Outfielder Corey Keller hit a two-run home run in the second inning to start the Owls off. After 13 innings, FAU eventually fell to UNC 12-11. Photo by Michelle Friswell.

The Owls’ Cinderella run has come to a close –– but the slipper did not fit.

In Monday’s wild winner-take-all Chapel Hill Regional championship, FAU was defeated by top seeded North Carolina, 12-11, in 13 innings.

Coach John McCormack’s fifth –– and most successful –– season with the team ended as the Owls became the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter and were nationally televised on ESPNU.

“I can’t thank our team enough for this season, they were a pleasure to be around and should be very proud of what they accomplished. #Owls,” McCormack wrote on Twitter.

The Owls fell just short of reaching the NCAA Super Regionals, with the game playing out similar to a “Buffalo Wild Wings” commercial, boasting plenty of dramatics.

In the 13th –– just after 1 a.m. Tuesday morning –– UNC loaded the bases against Owls reliever Michael Sylvestri, who surrendered the game-winning hit down the left field line, sending the Tar Heels onward and FAU back to Boca.

This came an inning after FAU catcher Levi Meyer handed the team an 11-8 advantage with a three-run homer.

However, the Tar Heels tied it up with three hits in the bottom of the 11th frame, as FAU closer Hugh Adams, pitching his fourth inning of work, was touched up for two singles and two walks.

Sylvestri would come in for Adams, letting up a walk and a single. He was aided by outfielder Geoff Jimenez, who threw out the would-be game winning runner at the plate, extending the contest another inning, but not before the damage was done.

The Owls even made it to that point thanks to a rallying six-run ninth inning, which began with a solo home run by outfielder Corey Keller, his second of the game.

After FAU loaded the bases –– and tacked on another run –– with three walks and a single, the bags remained full for outfielder Tyler Rocklein.

On his fourth pitch of the at-bat, Rocklein connected on a grand slam blast to left field, giving the Owls an 8-6 lead as they swarmed him at home plate. It was Rocklein’s only hit of the night.

The lead wouldn’t last for long, though.

In the bottom of the ninth, Adams took over for Austin Gomber, quickly allowing a double and single in consecutive at-bats. With runners on second and third, UNC second baseman Mike Zolk knocked a single into right field, knotting the game at 8-8.

Although Adams would work himself out of the inning, he went on to finish with a lackluster statline: three innings pitched, five hits, five earned runs, and a staggering five walks.

The latter statistic hurt the Owls, but FAU coach John McCormack ultimately had faith in the fifth-year Sun Belt career saves leader.

“When Hugh went out there [in the 9th inning], I sat down and said, ‘we’re going to the super regional’. No doubt in my mind,” McCormack told the Sun Sentinel.

The rest of the game, which started nearly two hours late due to a rain delay, was a topsy-turvy affair.

FAU took a 2-1 lead in the top of the second inning on Keller’s first home run –– his fifth of the Regional tournament.

UNC would storm back, adding a run in the bottom of the second, two runs in the third, one in the fifth, and another in the seventh.

Outfielder Nathan Pittman led the Owls with three hits against the Tar Heels, and was among three FAU players to earn all tournament honors. The other two were third baseman Ricky Santiago and Keller, who hit 10 home runs this season.

FAU finishes the year with a 42-22 record, including a Sun Belt Conference Tournament title and three victories in the Regional tourney.

Even with the loss, the Sun Belt recognized its soon-to-be-former member for its effort against the country’s No. 1-rated club.

“Hats off to @FAUOwlAthletics,” the Sun Belt said on Twitter. “Pushed top seeded Tar Heels to the brink of elimination. Those kids deserve a standing O. Helluva season!”

And despite their season ending in tough fashion, Owls players can always remember the wild ride.

“#Passion … That’s what baseball is all about,” Pittman wrote on Twitter. “Best college baseball game to ever be played and we were apart of it. Unreal. #FAU.”