Tar Heels, Wolfpack meet again in ACC baseball tournament

jgiglio@newsobserver.comMay 19, 2014 

  • You again?

    N.C. State and North Carolina will meet in the postseason for the fifth time in three seasons on Tuesday in the ACC tournament:

    YearSiteWinnerScoreAttendance
    2012GreensboroUNC4-0 (12)10,229
    2013DurhamUNC2-1 (18)11,392
    2013Omaha, Neb.N.C. State8-125,742
    2013Omaha, Neb.UNC7-025,742

North Carolina and N.C. State usually don’t agree on much, but both sides of the rivalry are in unison about the meaning of Tuesday’s baseball game in the ACC tournament.

“We just have to look at it as do or die,” N.C. State catcher Brett Austin said.

And UNC coach Mike Fox, on his team’s NCAA tournament chances: “We have to win (Tuesday), after that I just don’t know.”

The winner between the Tar Heels (32-23) and Wolfpack (32-22), who will meet at 11 a.m. at NewBridge Bank Park in Greensboro, will advance into Pool B of the ACC tournament. The winner will get the chance to enhance its NCAA tournament resume.

The loser will probably see its season end without a spot in the NCAA tournament. For Fox and the Tar Heels, who have made the College World Series six times since 2006, that hasn’t happened since 2001.

The Wolfpack last missed the NCAA tournament in 2009, but another loss to the Tar Heels would be especially painful.

UNC ended N.C. State’s 2013 season with a 7-0 shutout in the College World Series on June 20. That’s the last time the two teams played.

“And they can end our season this year, too,” N.C. State shortstop Trea Turner said.

This wasn’t how the season was supposed to go for either team. N.C. State began the season in the top 10 nationally and one of the favorites in the ACC.

North Carolina has been one of the most consistent programs in the country since 2002. Reloading after losing so much talent after last year’s CWS finish has been an uphill task, though, even for Fox.

“It’s a new year, as we all know,” Fox said. “Two teams that met in CWS are in a play-in game of the ACC tournament. Welcome to college baseball, one year to the next.”

The teams did not play during the regular season for the first time since 1918. They were not scheduled to play an ACC series but had scheduled a game in Durham on April 15, but it was rained out.

This will be the third straight year the Wolfpack and Tar Heels will play in the ACC tournament. UNC won 4-0 in 12 innings in Greensboro in 2012 and 2-1 in 18 innings in Durham last year.

Carlos Rodon started both of those games for N.C. State, but Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent said Monday he did not anticipate the junior left-hander starting on three days rest.

Avent said he was leaning toward using junior right-hander Eric Peterson, who has thrown 531/3 innings this season but hasn’t started a game.

Fox said sophomore righty Reilly Hovis, who leads the team with a 1.80 earned-run average and has six saves, will get his first start of the season.

The past four postseason games between the two teams have been memorable, and going back to 2003, they have split the 38 games they’ve played.

UNC has won the past two ACC tournament meetings in extra innings, and the crowds in Greensboro in 2012 (10,229) and Durham in 2013 (11,392) are the two largest to see college baseball games in the state of North Carolina.

The teams met twice in the CWS last June in Omaha, Neb., with the Wolfpack winning the first game and the Tar Heels winning the second game.

“Those are great memories for sure, terrific games,” Fox said. “Everybody enjoyed the competition and the status of those games.”

But Fox said his team can’t get too caught up in what has happened between the two teams. He said his team, which finished 15-15 in the ACC, has played better down the stretch than earlier in the season.

Fox said the pitching has been solid all season – his team ranks second in the ACC with a 2.92 ERA – but hitting has been an issue. The Heels led the country in scoring last season with 542 runs in 71 games. They rank 103rd (of 300 teams) this season with 284 runs in 55 games.

“We are kind of who we are, and there has been a small margin of error for us between winning and losing,” Fox said.

Avent sounded like Fox when talking about his team, which won its final three ACC series to clinch the 10th and final spot in the tournament.

The Wolfpack was 7-14 in the ACC after losing a home series to Boston College on April 20. State has won six of nine in the ACC and 11 of 15 overall to set itself up for a chance at returning to the NCAA tournament.

“We’re playing good right now,” Avent said. “It would be a shame if this team didn’t make the NCAA tournament.”

Both sides have one more shot, against each other, to make an impression.

Giglio: 919-829-8938; Twitter: @jwgiglio

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