That's it, then. The last flickering flame of the 2008-2009 season, whatever your sport, has been extinguished. It's now the offseason no matter which sport is your favorite, and there's little else to do but obsess over football recruiting and count down the days until September 5 (78, if you're curious.)
But we'll not leave the baseball team hanging. Let's relive a little bit of last night's game.
I'd already steeled myself for the eventual elimination of O'Connor's crew. This wasn't hard. No matter what comes next, an ACC championship forever marks any season as a resounding success. Nobody's going to look back on the 2009 baseball season, in which we won the ACC tournament and made the College World Series, as anything but.
That said, I'd prepared myself for a slightly different ending. I figured we'd drop another game to LSU, or maybe miracle our way past that round and have our tired pitchers run into a buzzsaw named Texas or North Carolina in the championship series, all the while getting beaten solidly and unreservedly by some score similar to the actual LSU loss, which was 9-5. 9-5 is easier to take. Steel-toed ass-kickings are still painful, but at the end you sigh and convince yourself there was nothing that could have been done, we just ran into a better team and that was that.
Extra inning games that shouldn't even be in extra innings in which you blow chance after chance until you run out of chances to blow - those are a different animal. I saw two losses coming a mile away as soon as we'd finished off Ole Miss. Kept hoping against hope they would hold off, but was ready for them nonetheless. I just didn't think it'd be a game like that, the proverbial shoulda game, against the lowest-ranked team in our CWS region. College World Series: Coulda Woulda Shoulda. It's rough.
But. But But But. Long-term, this is better. This helps the future more. If we'd dropped another nine-run game to LSU or gotten decisively swept by Texas, the team would take it hard, and get on that plane disappointed, but just like the fans, they'd also be able to tell themselves, "There's nothing we could have done different." But this way, how many of them will instead be telling themselves, "If Only I...." If only I'd been more patient at the plate. If only I'd been more aggressive at the plate. If only I'd been smarter on the basepaths. If only I'd concentrated more on that pitch. If only I were a little faster. I submit to you the answer is all of them, and speaking from experience I think that includes those who didn't get in the game at all; it's the nature of the bench player to think, "I wouldn't have done that. I would have done this. I could have made that play." If they're the mentally resilient types, and they are because otherwise they'd have folded it up in Irvine, they'll each take a personal lesson home in the offseason. That is how you go from "freshman mistakes" (of which there were plenty on display yesterday) to "the poise of a senior" (of which there was also plenty on display, just not quite enough.)
And it bears repeating over and over and over again, til every thick-headed drooling idiot that thinks it's a good idea to curse out Steven Proscia or Shane Halley or whoever is the most convenient goat in his small mind gets the point: Fantastic season all around. Fantastic. Unbelievable. Magical. The best of any of our teams this year. Yes, better than the utterly dominant swim teams (which did not do as well on a national level as baseball), and better than the Final Four lacrosse team (which didn't win an ACC championship despite facing half the number of teams.) Perhaps one of the top three seasons in any sport in this decade. They've turned baseball in Charlottesville from a fun little spring pastime into an honest-to-mercy Big Deal, which is a rare and exciting sort of transition, one that I wish the basketball team would get around to.