N.C. State, UNC to revisit historic game at Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Because of a quirk in the ACC baseball schedule, North Carolina and N.C. State weren’t slated to play this season.
But those two schools and the Durham Bulls made sure that the rivalry would continue.
The Tar Heels and the Wolfpack will play a non-conference game on April 15 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the site of last year’s 18-inning ACC Tournament marathon between the teams that set a state record for attendance at a college baseball game.
This year’s game, titled the “Duel at the DBAP,” was first announced last month. But Bulls general manager Mike Birling and the head coaches from both programs held a joint news conference on Tuesday, the day tickets went on sale to the general public.
“When the schedule came out and we found out that UNC and N.C.C State weren’t going to be play this year ... obviously we can’t let that happen,” Birling said. “From a pure baseball standpoint, from a fan’s perspective, this rivalry is too great to not play a game.”
The programs are coming off the most successful season in the history of the series. UNC beat N.C. State 2-1 on Saturday, May 25 that extended into the morning hours of Sunday, May 26, in the longest game in ACC Tournament history. The extraordinary game drew a crowd of 11,391 and determined which team would advance to the tournament final.
“At two in the morning there were probably 8,000 people still here for that game,” Birling said. “You just don’t see that, and that speaks to the rivalry between these two schools, and we wanted to hop on top of that and keep this going.”
Both schools later advanced to the College World Series, with the Wolfpack beating the Tar Heels in the opener for both teams and UNC eliminating N.C. State from the double-elimination tournament later in the week.
The programs had played each other in front of capacity crowds in their home stadiums in recent years during the regular season. But a series of events made it so that the teams weren’t scheduled to meet in 2014.
Expansion increased the number of ACC baseball schools to 14, but the baseball committee decided to keep the league schedule at 30 games, so each school would only face 10 of the other 13 programs. And unlike football and basketball, baseball does not have permanent rivals, so UNC and N.C. State were not guaranteed to face off each season (permanentpartners will be added in baseball in 2015).
Sure enough, UNC-N.C. State wasn’t one of the conference series set for 2014, so Wolfpack coach Elliot Avent and Tar Heels coach Mike Fox explored other options.
“Elliot and I knew we were going to play this coming season. Somewhere, somehow, someway,” Fox said. “We really wanted to play a neutral game and we wanted to play it here.”
Though the coaches considered playing one game each at UNC and N.C. State, it was decided to hold just the one game at the DBAP.
However, because it’s a midweek non-conference game, it’s doubtful that this year’s meeting will have the same intensity as last year’s postseason clashes.
Avent said he wouldn’t start ace Carlos Rodon, who is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, while Fox was noncommittal when asked if he would use one of his top pitchers.
“It will certainly be different,” Fox said. “It won’t be as much on the line, but I don’t think that’s going to matter once they say, ‘Play ball.’”
'New' DBAP to debut with Duke-UNC
The first baseball game scheduled for the new-look DBAP, which is undergoing a $20 million renovation, is an ACC game between UNC and Duke on March 30.
The Blue Devils played roughly half of their home games at the DBAP last season, including a three-game series against N.C. State.
The Bulls’ first game is their new park is April 3 against Gwinnett.