Heartbreaker: Birmingham-Southern's magical postseason ends with 11-10 loss in D-3 World Series

Birmingham-Southern’s magnificent, magical ride is over

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EASTLAKE, Ohio (AP) — There is indeed crying in baseball, and for Birmingham-Southern, there were also many tears of joy.

A magnificent, almost magical postseason ride ended in heartbreak.

More heartbreak.

The Panthers' inspiring run, which came as the liberal arts college in Alabama was being shut down for financial failure after more than 160 years, ended on Sunday with an 11-10 loss to Wisconsin-Whitewater in the Division III College World Series.

It was a painful, seemingly unfair finish for a never-say-die team that had lifted a tight-knit community devastated by the school's closing while captivating the hearts of American sports fans who could relate to the Panthers’ feel-good story, a mixture of loss, grief and pride.

“I don’t feel sadness right now and I mean it," said coach Jay Weisberg, who took over BSC's program in 2007 and built into one of the nation's strongest at the D-III level. "The ride that these guys have given me this year has been absolutely incredible.

"Coaching is what I love, and these guys have made it so fun.”

Birmingham-Southern built a 10-5 lead through six innings, but couldn’t put away Wisconsin-Whitewater, which scored two runs in the seventh, three in the eighth and got a walk-off homer from Sam Paden leading off the ninth.

Someone had to be the villain.

When Paden's homer cleared the wall in left, several Birmingham-Southern players stood still as if frozen in disbelief.

There wouldn't be a storybook ending after all.

After briefly gathering his team in the outfield, Weisberg had his players and the alums who had made the trip from all over the country to see the Panthers one last time stand single file along the third-base line.

Together they tipped their caps to the BSC fans in the ballpark, a final salute from a team that will never play again. The players then walked off the field in small groups, hand in hand.

The salute was something Weisberg had planned, a full-circle moment for him and players he had touched.

Weisberg managed to keep his composure during the early portion of his press conference before being asked what he hoped would be the final message of Birmingham-Southern.

“What a beautiful place it is ... was," he said before breaking down in tears.

Weisberg took 25 seconds to compose himself before continuing and speaking about a school that has defined his life.

“I know a lot of people have pride in their schools and they should,” he said. "We aren’t different than many. But it’s such a beautiful place, physically. We have the best sunsets in the world. The message about Birmingham-Southern is that it changed lives. It was a place where people came as young men and women and left as mature men and women.

"What this nation has seen over these last three weeks and the joy that we brought is exactly what this program is — it’s toughness, it’s championship baseball, great young man. I love it that the final chapter for Birmingham-Southern could have gone off into the sunset and not many people besides graduates or the Birmingham community would know about it.

"But now the nation knows there were some pretty special things that happened here.”

The doors at BSC were officially shut on Friday as the Panthers opened the eight-team double-elimination tournament with a loss to Salve Regina.

And while they won’t be going home with a trophy, Birmingham-Southern’s players brought joy to a community still grappling with the fact that the school is gone forever.

Back in March, when the school announced it was closing, Weisberg encouraged his players to play freely and that's what they did.

As Wisconsin-Whitewater stormed back, Weisberg's son, JT, remembered to live by his dad's words.

“When the game got tight, I wasn’t worried about winning or losing," he said. "I wanted one more night to be able to hang out with everyone. I think the ride we had the last three weeks is better than winning a national championship.

"Either way, we’re going to get back to campus and we’re going to have to all move out and say goodbye to our friends. It’s the relationships that last longer than anything we won on this run or anything we could win.”

“I hope what people have learned from this is the power of people coming together with love.”

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AP college sports: https://apnews.com/hub/college-sports

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