Mike Martin, who has seen an ACC baseball tournament or two during his decades at Florida State, has no illusions about which team was the home team Wednesday, regardless of what it said on the scoreboard in left center.
“I mean, you want to call it neutral, OK, it is,” Martin said. “But at the same time, there were a lot of N.C. State people there, and they did a good job of making it feel like it was their home game.”
Not that it mattered. N.C. State’s 7-3 loss to the Seminoles – a near-fatal blow to the Wolfpack’s hopes of getting back to the ACC title game, with top-seeded Mami looming Thursday night – was yet another blow to the would-be unofficial home teams at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
North Carolina didn’t even make the 10-team tournament. Duke made it as the No. 7 seed, but exited meekly Tuesday with a 4-3 loss to 10th-seeded Wake Forest in a play-in game. And N.C. State, which harbored legitimate hopes of competing for the title again – the Wolfpack went into Wednesday ranked seventh in the RPI despite a 34-17 record – dropped its very winnable opener to Florida State.
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N.C. State got five solid innings out of Cory Wilder and took a 3-1 lead into the seventh, but the bullpen struggled and the offense stalled. The Seminoles turned two singles and a walk into two runs in the seventh before piling on in the eighth. The Wolfpack had runners on first and third in the top of the eighth, but Chance Shepherd’s drive down the third-base line was snagged by Florida State’s John Sansone to end the inning.
Obviously we didn’t play perfect, so there are some things we can work on. But this isn’t just about winning the ACC championship. It’s about winning the national championship.
N.C. State coach Elliott Avent
The DBAP has been kind to the Triangle teams in the past – and their fans, given some of the overwhelmingly entertaining (or agonizing) games North Carolina and N.C. State have played here, and not just against each other – but 2016 won’t go into the record books that way, barring a miraculous set of circumstances.
So the next four days will proceed as scheduled in the shadow of the Hit Bull Win Steak sign but they might as well pack up and move the whole shebang to Orlando, with Florida State or Miami all but guaranteed to come out of N.C. State’s pool at this point.
For the Wolfpack, the focus now swerves to damage control. While a national seed and the chance to host a super regional was unlikely to start the week, the Wolfpack is likely but not guaranteed to host a regional, even with that sparkling RPI. If Florida State wins the ACC, or even its pool, the Seminoles would have a chance to slip ahead of the Wolfpack – especially if N.C. State were to lose out.
So these games against Miami on Thursday and Georgia Tech on Friday remain critical for N.C. State, if not in the larger picture of the ACC. N.C. State already cleared the decks for the NCAA, booting the June 3-4 NCHSAA baseball championships to Burlington earlier this week, but the baseball team still needs to finish the deal, which left N.C. State coach Elliott Avent already moving on mentally in defeat.
“Obviously we didn’t play perfect, so there are some things we can work on,” Avent said. “But this isn’t just about winning the ACC championship. It’s about winning the national championship.”
Martin should be happy now: For the rest of the week, the DBAP is probably going to be as neutral as it’s ever going to get. The would-be home teams played themselves out of it quickly or never made it at all.
Luke DeCock: firstname.lastname@example.org, 919-829-8947, @LukeDeCock