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After an ACC tournament best forgotten, Triangle baseball redemption close at hand

NC State's Avent on advantages of hosting NCAA regional baseball tournament

NC State baseball coach Elliott Avent talks with reporters about the ACC baseball tournament and the advantages to being one of the 16 NCAA regional tournament sites.
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NC State baseball coach Elliott Avent talks with reporters about the ACC baseball tournament and the advantages to being one of the 16 NCAA regional tournament sites.

Looking past the empty seats and unsold beer, Florida State and Louisville delivered an entertaining – and history-making – finish to what was, unavoidably, a disappointing weekend for Durham and the ACC.

The three Triangle teams all faltered as top seeds in their pods, leaving the door open for the Seminoles to claim their second straight title and third in the past four years, with only a 2016 loss to Clemson at the DBAP marring that run. That game took 10 hours to play; this one took 10 innings, with Florida State scoring three runs in the top of the additional inning before closing out an 11-8 win.

It wasn't supposed to be like this; both the standings and the format seemed to preordain some kind of local representation in the championship game, but North Carolina was out of the weekend picture by Wednesday and Duke and N.C. State went home Friday, leaving good seats available for the semifinals and championship.

In one row down the left-field line Sunday, there were fans in N.C. State and Duke hats and North Carolina shirts, marooned together by their fandom. The Triangle's closest degrees of separation to the trophy were Florida State coach Mike Martin, who grew up in Charlotte wanting to play basketball for the Wolfpack, and Seminoles catcher Cal Raleigh, born in Cullowhee where his father coached Western Carolina, the tournament MVP.

They had to fight for it, taking an early 5-1 lead only for Louisville to score seven straight, including three home runs in a span of six at-bats in the third and fourth. But that was it for the Cardinals, and the Seminoles chipped away at the lead until pulling ahead in the top of the 10th.

What this return to Durham lacked in local frisson it made up for in entertainment and a general if not complete lack of weather issues, and the final game was as good a game as any of them. Even at something less than full capacity, the atmosphere underlined the DBAP's suitability as a host even in the absence of the would-be home teams.

“That's a dadgum good tournament,” the avuncular Martin proclaimed at the end of his press conference, and it was hard to argue with someone who has won eight of them.

These emotions were all too familiar for Martin as well as the absent Triangle teams, who followed up what may have been the worst postseason in recent memory last spring with a thoroughly underwhelming ACC tournament.

Redemption, though, is quickly at hand. The field for the NCAA tournament is announced tomorrow, and not only are those three teams all comfortably among the 64, they will be joined by East Carolina, UNC Wilmington, Campbell and North Carolina A&T. The Tar Heels, Pirates and Wolfpack all found out later Sunday night they'll host regionals -- N.C. State was very much on the bubble -- and Duke will be headed somewhere as a No. 2 seed.

It wouldn't be shocking to see the Aggies in Chapel Hill and the Camels in Greenville as No. 4 seeds, since these things tend to shake out regionally, even if the superregionals are no longer paired up that way. The Blue Devils could end up as the second seed in East Carolina's regional.

Either way, no one's going to remember the weekend that wasn't in Durham if any of these teams ends up in Omaha, and East Carolina has as good a chance as any of them, too.

This had the potential to be a fun weekend at the DBAP and it fell something short of that, although Florida State and Louisville did as much as they could Sunday. The real fun starts now, presumably. It's hard to imagine things going much worse than they did this week, or last June, and there's every reason to expect better.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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