The shock of the moment was so unnerving that several players instantly fell to their knees and buried the sides of their faces in their hands.
Others, after several moments went by, leaned over to teammates and offered consoling hugs and burly, dirt-stained shoulders to help hide the tears.
When the Virginia Cavaliers huddled for their final postgame talk of the 2011 season, the pain was seared on their faces. Those seemingly indelible markings of sorrow were tough to look beyond.
Surely, the first thought in some of their minds was, why? Why, after a year in which they were dubbed the best team in America entering postseason play, did it all have to come to such an abrupt, screeching halt? Why weren't they able to prove they deserved the No. 1 ranking the media and public had bestowed upon them?
Coach Brian O'Connor swiftly addressed those concerns.
"Some people might feel that you're the No. 1 national seed and maybe you failed," he said, recanting his postgame speech. "But that certainly is not the case."
Despite falling to South Carolina 3-2 in the 13th inning of one of the most epic games in College World Series history, the Cavaliers had a school-record 56-win season, reached their farthest postseason point in school history, boasted one of the nation's top pitching staffs and even bid adieu to a player taken second in the Major League Baseball draft.
The Cavaliers chartered home from Omaha on Saturday afternoon and were greeted by nearly 1,100 fans at Davenport Field. The 90-minute ceremony included a highlight video and on-field autograph session with players and coaches.
Virginia's home attendance ranked 19th nationally last season, and this month the Cavaliers attracted capacity crowds of 5,050 for five of six home NCAA tournament games.
"I've got a tremendous amount of pride in this team and what they accomplished this year," O'Connor said. "It's really spectacular what we did all year, and the reason it is is because so many different players had to emerge during the season for us to be here in Omaha right now."
There was Danny Hultzen, the ace of the staff and No. 2 overall pick of the Seattle Mariners, who may have begun pitching the most special outing of his college career Saturday night. Due to an illness, no one will ever know.
After just three innings, he had nine strikeouts. Of the 40 pitches he had thrown, 32 were strikes. He was just plain untouchable. He was his normal self.
In addition to the ACC Pitcher of the Year, the Cavaliers also boasted an undefeated senior in starter Tyler Wilson. Months after making the transition from the bullpen into the starting rotation full-time, the right-hander was virtually unhittable. He compiled a 10-0 record and a 2.24 ERA in a year that he struck out 124.
Offensively, Steven Proscia was the Cavaliers' hottest bat much of the season, leading the team in RBI entering the CWS. His only blemish came in Omaha, where he struggled and amassed just one hit.
One of the best things the Cavaliers may have gotten out of the CWS trip -- their second in school history and first since 2009 -- was big-game experience. Particularly out of their bullpen, a pair of underclassmen, sophomore Branden Kline and freshman Kyle Crockett of Poquoson, were tough down the stretch in the South Carolina game.
Crockett, who entered in the fourth for Hultzen, lasted four innings and gave up two runs to the Gamecocks. Those runs were scored off the lefty in his first inning on the mound. The rest of the way, he was tough to hit, just like Kline. Kline didn't allow a run in his five-inning, three-hit performance.
"All the coaches prepared me for the moment," Crockett said. "It was a little exhilarating going out there. Of course I was excited. But I had prepared and I was ready."This time next year, Virginia hopes to be preparing for championship week.
Staff writer David Teel contributed to this story.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun