Finding Peace Despite Defeat
Jun 25, 2011
UVa players absorb the emotions of a tough loss to end the season. (photo by Ian Rogol)
Just 12 days ago, I wrote that there is a fine line between dejection and delirium. That Super Regional win and scene on a perfect Monday night couldn't have been scripted any better. I wish I didn't have to be reminded so soon of how the other end feels, though.
Losing 3-2 in the bottom of the 13th inning in an epic College World Series elimination game? Two throwing miscues and a gaggle of runners stranded on base? You won't find too many things in sports more disappointing than that. Dejection.
But you know what? With the way the entire thing played out, I wouldn't go as far as devastation. Sure there may be a fleeting hint of it in the immediate aftermath of such a loss. It stinking stings to lose a game like that. When you gave it everything you had at the end of a successful season, however, it doesn't exactly linger with such a sharp edge.
As a high school girls' basketball coach, I've been there on a smaller scale. The 2010 season for us ended with a one-point loss in double overtime in the regional semifinals, just one win away from our program's first ever state tournament berth. We missed a lay-up in the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter that would have won the game and led in the final minute of both overtimes. Both teams in that game played determined and hard-to-crack defense so every possession seemed like a do-or-die situation. Both teams left exhausted. It was undoubtedly disappointing.
But you know what? I wouldn't go as far as devastation. Both teams can't win. That's sports. The questions losing teams are left with are, one, whether they can live with their effort in the season's final hour and, two, whether they can accept that their season is still a success. I saw a sense of peace in my team's eyes the day after our disappointing loss.
It's the famous Theodore Roosevelt quote that comes to mind.
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
Virginia should be able to look in the mirror Saturday morning and live with how the 2011 season finished. The Cavaliers' effort against South Carolina was as gutty as any you'll see in the win-or-go home world of postseason play. Danny Hultzen's outing despite being ill, Branden Kline's extended innings on the mound, and twin catches along the outfield lines by John Barr and David Coleman are all emblematic of just how much everyone put into the game. The effort simply cannot be questioned. " ... who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
The program advanced deeper into the postseason than ever before and stood as one of the final four teams left in the College World Series. The Cavaliers posted a program-record 56-12 final mark and won the ACC Championship. The Hoos should be able to feel a sense of peace with what they put into the 2011 campaign and the success they accumulated until the very end.
Virginia coach Brian O'Connor told his team as much after the game.
"Well, there's not a script for it of what you say to them. I just told them that I'm extremely proud of them, that they needed to walk out of here with their heads high; that some people might feel that you're the number one national seed, that maybe you failed. But that is certainly not the case," O'Connor said. "The lessons that they learned in our baseball program, that I assure them, 20 years from now they'll come back and have told me I was right, that these lessons they learned on this field and as a group and as a team will make them better men. So that was the message to them."
A feeling of peace despite disappointment.
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