For the first time since the ACC expanded more than a decade ago, the “Big Four” of Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest and N.C. State are all in the main draw of the ACC baseball tournament.
It also happens to be the first time the tournament will not be played in the state of North Carolina since 2008.
The league announced the schedule for its baseball tournament on Sunday with a new, expanded format and a new, temporary home (Louisville, Ky.).
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Twelve (out of 14) teams made the field this year, up from 10, and there are four “pools” of three teams. Pool play is a round-robin format and the pool winners will meet in a single-elimination bracket. If all three teams finish with a 1-1 record in pool play, the team with the best seed advances.
Pool play begins on Tuesday at Louisville Slugger Field, the minor-league ballpark in Louisville, not the on-campus home of the top-seeded Cardinals.
UNC (44-11), the No. 2 seed, and N.C. State (33-22), the No. 7 seed, are in Pool B together and are scheduled to play on Friday at 7 p.m.
Wake Forest (38-17), enjoying one of its best seasons in recent history, is the No. 3 seed and opens pool play, in Pool C, on Wednesday against Georgia Tech (27-26).
Duke (28-27) is the No. 9 seed, and in Pool D, and faces Clemson (39-17) on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Spurred by some classic matchups between N.C. State and North Carolina, the popularity of the ACC tournament has grown recently. Either Greensboro or Durham has hosted every year since 2009.
This year’s tournament was supposed to be played in Durham, but the ACC moved all of its neutral-site championships out of the state in response to the discriminatory aspects of the House Bill 2.
The state legislature approved a compromise bill in March, but it was too late to get the conference championship back. It’s scheduled to return to Durham next year.
ACC fans in Kentucky will get the latest postseason round between the Wolfpack and Tar Heels. The teams played 12 innings in 2012 in Greensboro, which turned out to be a preamble for an 18-inning epic in 2013 in Durham, a 2-1 UNC win.
The teams met again in 2014 in Greensboro in the play-in round, which turned out to be a de facto play-in for the NCAA tournament. UNC won again, 4-3 in controversial fashion over a disputed play at the plate, and moved into the main draw of the ACC tournament and was picked as one of the last at-large teams in the NCAA tournament.
The league coaches had been in favor of expanding the ACC tournament in an effort to get more teams into the NCAA tournament. The thinking there: If a team is not good enough to make its own conference tournament, how is it good enough for the national tournament?
UNC was not included in the 10-team ACC field last year in Durham and was not picked for an NCAA tournament spot.
The league changed to the pool-play format in 2008 in an effort to save its pitching for the NCAA tournament. The old double-elimination format, while a truer tournament test and generally more entertaining, taxed teams’ pitching at the worst possible time of the season.
Since the league added Miami and Virginia Tech in 2005, the Big Four in-state schools had not qualified for the main draw of the tournament together until this season.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
ACC tournament seeds
1. Louisville (23-6 ACC)
8. Florida State (14-14)
12. Notre Dame (10-20)
2. UNC (23-7)
7. N.C. State (16-14)
11. Boston College (11-19)
3. Wake Forest (19-11)
6. Miami (16-13)
10. Georgia Tech (11-19)
4. Virginia (18-12)
5. Clemson (17-13)
9. Duke (12-18)
ACC tournament schedule
Note: All games, except championship game, will be televised by Fox Sports Carolinas
Miami vs. Georgia Tech, 11 a.m.
N.C. State vs. Boston College, 3 p.m.
Clemson vs. Duke, 7 p.m.
Florida State vs. Notre Dame, 11 a.m.
Boston College vs. UNC, 3 p.m.
Georgia Tech vs. Wake Forest, 7 p.m.
Duke vs. Virginia, 11 a.m.
Wake Forest vs. Miami, 3 p.m.
Notre Dame vs. Louisville, 7 p.m.
Virginia vs. Clemson, 11 a.m.
Louisville vs. Florida State, 3 p.m.
UNC vs. N.C. State, 7 p.m.
Pool A winner vs. Pool D winner, 1 p.m.
Pool B winner vs. Pool C winner, 5 p.m.
Semifinal winners, noon (ESPN2)