Brandon Sans/The Seahawk
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—Greg Jones shot a single down the right field line to bring Noah Liles in for the score on Saturday afternoon — a glimmer of hope in a rough outing for UNC Wilmington.
A couple of runs in the bottom of the ninth brought cheers from the Seahawk faithful, but on their last leg and down by a touchdown, the Diamond Hawks were delaying the inevitable.
After suffering a 7-6 loss on a botched suicide squeeze attempt on Friday night against North Carolina, the Seahawks were thrusted into the elimination bracket.
Friday night, after a three-hour weather delay and the conclusion of UNCW vs. UNC, Liberty and Tennessee squared off with a 10 p.m. first pitch. The game wrapped up just before 1 a.m. with the Flames crowned the victors, so UT faced the Seahawks on Saturday.
By the fourth inning, the Vols were up 3-0. Just as it has all season, UNCW made an attempt to come from behind with an RBI single from Jones in the fifth inning, making it 3-1. By the sixth inning, UT had tacked on another pair of runs, making it 5-1.
It wasn’t until the eighth inning that UT began to really unload.
A grand slam from freshman Connor Pavolony sent the deficit to nine runs and the Seahawks couldn’t rebound, falling 10-3. UNCW finished the season 32-31.
“I gotta give Tony [Vitello] and his club credit,” said head coach Mark Scalf. “They came right back here today on short rest and played aggressively, handled the ball cleanly, defensively. We weren’t able to do that, so that’s the reason we’re finishing up today and they’re continuing to play.”
End of an era
As the UNCW baseball season comes to a close, so does the illustrious career of coach Scalf. The long-time leader of the Seahawk club caps off a 28-year run as head coach in Wilmington and a coaching tenure in the Port City that stretches back to 1984.
10 NCAA Regionals, 941 wins and six CAA tournament titles are only the surface of what Scalf has accomplished in Wilmington.
He has also seen six players earn CAA Player of the Year honors, nine CAA regular season titles, and 382 regular season conference wins.
Many would say there’s no place more fitting for the UNCW alum’s career to close than the place that it all started. After graduating from UNCW, he spent his time at North Carolina as a graduate student.
He coached as a graduate assistant as well as a full-time assistant before returning to the Port City in 1984.
In an emotional post-game interview, Scalf looked back on his time as head coach, noting his relationships with players, past and present.
“I don’t know that I can put it into words,” said Scalf. “In this game there is a delayed gratification. I think we all have players that, while they’re with us, you’ve got a pretty good idea that they appreciate you and love you.”
As his final time at the post-game podium came to a close, he gave a heart-felt message to those who have played under his tutelage, noting the over 150 former players that have reached out to him in the last month, and the approximately 100 that were in attendance for his final game.
“I’ll cherish those relationships for the rest of my life — and I hope they do.”
As a grateful and teary-eyed Mark Scalf stood up to exit the room, he was met with an ovation from everyone in close proximity as he thanked the media members in attendance.
While Scalf’s coaching career is over, his legacy as the winningest coach in UNCW baseball history will live on for generations to come, memorialized on the outfield fence of Brooks Field.
For photos of the contest, click here
Sports Editor Noah Powers can be found on Twitter @tealnoah23. Any tips or suggestions should be forwarded via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.