CARY, N.C. -- T.J. Shea has been around baseball his whole life, and as a child, he dreamed of one day playing for Southern Connecticut State.

He grew up around the program. His dad, Tim, was an assistant at the school for 11 seasons before becoming the head coach in 2002.

“I lived, breathe, ate and slept Southern baseball,” the younger Shea said. “I always knew I was going to play for my dad. I worked hard to get my skills to where they need to be to play college baseball and it’s been an unbelievable year.”

But the season goes beyond unbelievable, even though it ended for the Owls on a warm early June night in North Carolina in a 7-5 loss to Winona State in the NCAA Division II national tournament at the USA Baseball National Training Complex.

For a father and son, this experience at the national tourney was one that will be cherished for a lifetime. Shea wrapped up the final game of his freshman season with two hits and drove in the final run of the night with a single to the shortstop.

“It was extra special because my dad is my coach,” Shea said. “My mom, brother, sister and girlfriend were here, too. This was a great moment.”

T.J., a designated hitter, is following in his father’s footsteps. His dad played at SCSU as well and was a two-year captain for the Owls. This year marked the second time in his career that he has guided SCSU to the national tournament, the first trip coming in 2005.

“It’s been a thrill being here with (T.J),” the elder Shea said. “He came up in some big spots for us during the tournament and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”

T.J. did everything he could to lead the Owls to one more win and keep the team’s hopes alive for a national title. He came up to the plate in the eighth with his team trailing 7-5 and ended up flying out to center. He walked back to the dugout frustrated that he was unable to deliver as he has so many times before this season.

But failure is part of the game, and while Shea hasn’t had to deal with it often -- he came into this game hitting .235 with 26 RBI --- it is a part of the game that he has learned to handle.

“He has really grown and matured, especially when it comes to dealing with failure,” Tim said. “It’s not easy playing for a national title contender, especially as a freshman, and T.J. is a very intense player and has played well for us.”

But dealing with the loss on Thursday night wasn’t easy. The Owls managed 10 hits and fell short despite jumping in front 4-0 in the first inning of play. They finish the year at 45-9-1.

“It really does suck. I feel like we were the better team, but coming up short is a hard pill to swallow,” T.J. said. “We have to move forward, learn from this experience and work hard to get back here again.”

Tim noted that coaching his son isn’t always easy, and while there were times where it seemed as if maybe he pushed him too hard, it was for a good reason.

“I am tougher on my son than anyone else,” Shea said. “He knows that and we have struggled with that at times. But again, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. He knows I am tough on him because I want him to be a better player and person, and at the end of the day, he knows why I am tough on him.”

T.J. certainly appreciates the time his dad put in to help him become a better player.

“My dad has had a great influence on my career,” T.J. said. “I’ve had my ups and downs this season, but my dad always hit home the message to stay positive and stay focused. That has been a key to my success.”

The future is certainly bright for the Owls and the younger Shea believes they will contend for a national title in 2012 as well.

“We gained a lot of confidence from this experience,” T.J. said. “We can compete with anyone in the nation and we will come back stronger next year.”