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UNC will have a 'chip on our shoulder' heading into the ACC tournament

Tar Heels prepare for postseason

UNC baseball coach Mike Fox discusses the effect of the Tar Heels' postseason disappointment in 2017 and having the No. 1 seed in the 2018 ACC Championship after completing a sweep of Virginia Tech on May 19, 2018.
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UNC baseball coach Mike Fox discusses the effect of the Tar Heels' postseason disappointment in 2017 and having the No. 1 seed in the 2018 ACC Championship after completing a sweep of Virginia Tech on May 19, 2018.

Before the start of the season, the North Carolina baseball team came up with a few goals.

One of them was to win an ACC Championship.

It eluded them last season in the tournament's final game against Florida State. The Tar Heels, the No. 2 seed lost 7-3 to the No. 7 seed Seminoles.

Now, as the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament, the Tar Heels (37-17, 22-8 ACC) have a chance at redemption — and will be playing with some attitude..

"We played so well that season and we came into the ACC tournament, just playing our baseball," UNC sophomore first baseman Michael Busch said. "I hope we play with a chip on our shoulder, because we seem to play a little better when we do."

UNC enters the ACC tournament having won three consecutive games, a series sweep at home against Virginia Tech. Prior to that, the Tar Heels had lost four of their last five games, including two non-conference games against UNCW, and Coastal Carolina. UNC also lost two conference games against Duke at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

Fox talks about the Tar Heels win over Duke, preventing the Blue Devils from sweeping the series on Sunday, May 13, 2018 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, N.C.

The Tar Heels are 2-3 this season at the DBAP, the site of the ACC tournament.

The ACC Baseball Championship will first feature pool play. Each team in the pool will play each other. The team with the best record will advance to the semifinals, where the matchups are single elimination. The tie-breaker in pool play will go to the team with the highest seed.

UNC will be in the same pool as eighth-seeded Georgia Tech (31-26 overall, 14-17 ACC) and 12th seeded Pittsburgh (28-25, 12-19 ACC). The Tar Heels swept both teams this season. In the three games UNC played Pitt, it outscored the Panthers 32-5. In its three games against Georgia Tech, the Tar Heels outscored the Yellow Jackets 28-14.

On Tuesday, Pitt beat Georgia Tech 2-1 in the first game of the tournament.

UNC will play Pitt at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. Because Pitt has already won one game, the winner of Wednesday's game will determine which team will advance to the semifinal game. UNC will also play Georgia Tech on Friday at 3 p.m.

The team that wins the ACC tournament will earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

In the past, winning the conference tournament has helped UNC heading into the NCAA tournament. The last time UNC won an ACC tournament title was in 2013. Before that, it won it in 2007. Both times, UNC advanced to the College World Series, and in 2007, finished runner up.

"It's extremely difficult to do," UNC coach Mike Fox said of winning the conference tournament. "It would mean a lot to our kids and our program. These tournament titles don't come to often. They're spread out among a lot of great teams in our conference."

The Tar Heels started the season 10-8 after one month of play. They finished with season strong, winning 22 out of 30 conference games, which was tied for the best in the ACC. From April 20 to May 8, the Tar Heels won nine consecutive games. In their three game sweep of the Hokies, the Tar Heels gave up only four runs.

Sophomore starting pitcher Gianluca Dalatri helped his team pick up a win in the final game of the series on Saturday. Dalatri, who was a Freshman All-American last season, hadn't pitched since February, when he suffering an injury to his elbow.

On Saturday, he pitched four innings, gave up only two hits and zero runs.

Fox said the plan for Dalatri is for him to pitch in the in the tournament. He said that all depends on Wednesday's result. He said if the Tar Heels need a win Friday night to get the Tar Heels to the next round, then he will pitch Friday. But if they don't need Friday's win to get to Saturday, then he will pitch on Saturday.

"I think we're feeling really good," said junior outfielder Brandon Riley, who is batting .301 on the season. "Losing the series to Duke and losing to UNC-Wilmington, it was kind of a test for us. I think it great this weekend to kind of regroup and get the sweep. We can carry that into the ACC tournament."

UNC vs. Pitt

When: 7 p.m.,Wednesday

Where: DBAP, Durham

TV: Fox Sports South

UNC vs. Georgia Tech

When: 3 p.m., Friday

Where: DBAP, Durham

TV: Fox Sports South

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Alexander, 919-829-4822; @jonmalexander
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