Luke DeCock

What a long, strange ACC championship it was

After some rain-soaked confusion over whether there would even be a tournament champion, Clemson finally hoisted the ACC baseball trophy, having outlasted not only Florida State but the weather for more than eight hours on Sunday.

The Tigers’ 18-13 victory was never in doubt after they scored all 18 runs in the first four innings. Whether the game would get to an official five innings was very much in doubt thanks to the weather. Then whether the game would ever end was very much in doubt thanks to the weather.

Saturday night, the ACC moved up the start to 10 a.m. because of Tropical Storm Bonnie, then pushed it back to 11 a.m. on Sunday morning, and still played only 26 minutes before the first rain delay. That lasted only 13 minutes. The second lasted almost three hours, with Clemson up 13-1 thanks to four Florida State errors. The third and final delay lasted another two hours.

All of that made for not only the longest (in elapsed time) but perhaps the strangest ACC championship game ever played, one in which it served Clemson’s interest for much of the early innings to stop scoring and Florida State’s to let Clemson score. Which, through circumstances or chicanery, is nearly how it played out.

Finally, after 5 hours and 9 minutes and 23 runs, the fifth inning was complete, making the result official. From there, with Clemson up 18-5, it should have been a stroll to the finish at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Instead, with an eight-run eighth inning, the Seminoles removed any chance of a gentleman’s abridgment, leading to yet another delay before the final six outs could be played to deliver a 10th tournament title to Clemson.

“Felt like we played a triple-header,” Florida State coach Mike Martin said. “We were out there for a while.”

Had the game not gone an official five innings, and there was a long time when it looked like it might not, Miami would have gotten the ACC’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, per ACC rules, and it would have been up to the three-man ACC tournament committee whether to name a champion, co-champions or no champion at all.

Since all three teams – Miami, Florida State and Clemson – were all safely in the NCAA field anyway, and the NCAA committee would have been well aware of Clemson’s 13-1 lead, it was academic to everyone but Clemson, which wanted the opportunity to complete a resounding victory and earn the trophy the Tigers were well on their way to rightfully securing.

As it turned out later Sunday night, Clemson and Florida State and N.C. State weren’t competing for the same spots hosting a regional next week. The Tigers and the Wolfpack and the Seminoles will all host, instead of Big South champion Coastal Carolina. As will Miami and Louisville and Virginia.

That may bode well for the ACC when the field of 64 is announced at noon Monday, with Duke and North Carolina both facing an uncertain fate. The Blue Devils should be in for the first time since 1961, although no one ever really knows, and the Tar Heels are hoping to repeat their unusual feat of 2010, when they missed the ACC tournament and still made the NCAA tournament.

Depending on what combination of Boston College and Duke and North Carolina and Wake Forest the committee selects, the ACC could get as many as 11 teams into the tournament, but a week of baseball in Durham only reinforced the league’s depth. The No. 6 seed outlasted not only the No. 4 seed but the persistent rain for the championship, and looked impressive doing it.

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

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