It went down to the final pitches and swings of the bats Saturday before the ACC baseball championship field was set.
Two interesting play-in games are coming to Durham Bulls Athletic Park Tuesday: North Carolina against Virginia Tech and Virginia taking on Georgia Tech. The two winners advance, the losers worry about the NCAA tournament.
The ACC tournament fully cranks up Wednesday in Durham with the start of “pod” play.
N.C. State, seeded sixth, doesn’t play until Thursday when the Wolfpack faces Notre Dame at 11 a.m. Should the eighth-seeded Tar Heels win their game against the Hokies, they’ll face top-seeded Louisville on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
The two pod winners will decide the ACC championship Sunday, but a lot can happen between Tuesday and the title game. Here are some things to know about the ACC Championship:
Louisville is the real deal
Talk about making a grand entrance. In their first ACC season, the Cardinals staked their claim as one of the best teams in league history.
The Cardinals, 42-14 overall and ranked second in some national polls, were 25-5 in ACC play, winning all 10 conference series to set a conference record for victories in a season.
“They don’t really have a weakness,” N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said. “They can run, they’ve got power, they’re good up and down the lineup. Good starting pitching, good bullpen. They’re really, really good.”
Some of the Cardinals’ numbers are crazy good. They’re 29-0 when scoring first and have won 135 consecutive games when taking a lead into the ninth inning. They’ve also won 11 straight series against nationally ranked opponents.
Junior right-hander Kyle Funkhouser will be a first-round pick in the major-league draft. Brendan McKay, who pitches and plays first base, may be the best freshman in the country.
Hey, what about Miami?
With all the dugout chatter about Louisville, the Hurricanes are the ones swinging the hot bats.
Miami, second in the Ratings Percentage Index, has won 12 straight, outscoring opponents 170-21. The Canes had victories of 22-1 and 17-4 during a 3-game sweep of Georgia Tech in their final series.
The Canes, 22-8 in the ACC, are hitting a league-leading .319 and second baseman George Iskenderian topped the ACC at .391. Miami also has the third-best team ERA (3.01).
David Thompson is a famous name in ACC basketball circles, but Miami has its own “DT.” The junior third baseman, who had three homers and nine RBIs in the 22-1 rout Friday, leads the ACC with 19 home runs and 78 RBIs.
Miami, making a push to be a No. 1 national seed in the NCAA tournament, lost two of three to Louisville in their first ACC series in early March. The Canes may get another shot this week with more on the line.
Tar Heels, Pack ACC redux?
Not very likely this year. But if it does happen...
The past three years have brought us ACC tournament classics between North Carolina and N.C. State. In 2012, it took 12 innings before UNC edged the Wolfpack. In 2013, before a crowd of 11,392 at DBAP, it was an 18-inning thriller finally won by the Tar Heels after N.C. State’s Carlos Rodon was brilliant on the mound.
Last year there was controversy. During a play-in game in Greensboro, the N.C. State’s Trea Turner was called out trying to steal home. The replays indicated the umpire missed the call, the Tar Heels went on to win again, and the fans had even more to talk about.
If the Wolfpack and Tar Heels play this week it will be for the ACC championship. UNC was swept in its past two ACC series, but as outfielder Tyler Ramirez said, “We’re in the tournament and we’re excited about that.”
What’s up with the format?
Listen to the ACC coaches talk and you wonder why the tournament format hasn’t been changed.
Only the top six teams in regular-season play secure spots in the field. The next four teams have play-in games.
“It’s got to be changed,” Avent said. “The coaches have voted for a 10-team double elimination. The whole object is to see how many teams you can get into the NCAAs.”
UNC coach Mike Fox noted Virginia, which swept the Tar Heels in their last ACC series, could be gone after Tuesday – or go on to win the championship.
“There’s Virginia (seeded) seventh, and they’ve been playing well and they’re in a one-game elimination,” Fox said. “It’s hard. Baseball’s just not that type of game where it should just be one-game elimination, in my opinion.”
A good draft class
Keep your eyes on some of these guys this week, because they will soon be gone after the upcoming MLB amateur draft.
Some believe Louisville’s Funkhouser will be taken in the top 10 picks and junior outfielder D.J. Stewart of Florida State is another potential first-rounder. Virginia pitcher Nathan Kirby has drawn a lot of interest as well as Miami’s Thompson.
While Duke didn’t qualify for the ACC tournament, pitcher Michael Matuella is an interesting prospect despite missing most of the season after Tommy John surgery. Before the injury Matuella was considered a potential No. 1 overall pick.
What’s your RPI?
For college teams this time of the year, the RPI becomes just as important as ERA or OBP. Everyone wants in the NCAA tournament and a good seed.
Here are the RPIs of the teams in Durham according to D1Baseball.com: Miami (2), Louisville (9), Florida State (13), Virginia (19), Georgia Tech (27), UNC (28), Notre Dame (34), N.C. State (40), Clemson (56) and Virginia Tech (66).
Which means three of the top 28 are in the two tournament play-in games.
Where: Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Pods A: No. 1 Louisville, No. 4 Florida State, No. 5 Clemson, No. 8 North Carolina/No. 9 Virginia Tech winner.
Pod B: No. 2 Miami, No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 6 N.C. State, No. 7 Virginia/No. 10 Ga. Tech winner.
7 Virginia vs. 10 Georgia Tech, 11 a.m. (RSN)
8 North Carolina vs. 9 Virginia Tech, 3 p.m. (RSN)
(Pool play begins)
4 Florida State vs. 5 Clemson, 11 a.m. (RSN)
2 Miami vs. 7 Virginia/ 10 Georgia Tech, 3 p.m. (RSN)
1 Louisville vs. 8 UNC/9 Va. Tech winner, 7 p.m. (RSN)
3 Notre Dame vs. 6 N.C. State, 11 a.m. (RSN)
5 Clemson vs. 1 Louisville, 3 p.m. (RSN)
4 Florida State vs. 8 UNC/9 Va. Tech winner, 7 p.m. (RSN)
3 Notre Dame vs. 7 UVa./ 10 Ga. Tech, 11 a.m. (RSN)
5 Clemson vs. 8 UNC/9 Va. Tech winner, 3 p.m. (RSN)
2 Miami vs. 6 N.C. State, 7 p.m. (RSN)
1 Louisville vs. 4 Florida State, 11 a.m. (RSN)
2 Miami vs. 3 Notre Dame, 3 p.m. (RSN)
6 N.C. State vs. 7 UVa./10 Ga. Tech, 7 p.m. (RSN)
Pool A champion vs. Pool B champion, 1 p.m. (ESPN2)