No easy path in ACC baseball tournament
North Carolina may be the No. 1 seed for this week’s ACC Tournament, which starts today at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, but that doesn’t mean the Tar Heels received an easy draw.
On Thursday (3 p.m., Fox Sports South), UNC will face No. 8 Miami and pitcher Andrew Suarez, who allowed just one run in 6.2 innings when he faced the Tar Heels in March.
UNC plays No. 5 Clemson on Friday (7 p.m., FSS) and likely will face Matthew Crownover, a freshman who led the ACC with a 1.73 ERA during league play.
The Tar Heels final showdown is Saturday (7 p.m., FSS) against No. 4 N.C. State and All-ACC first team selection Carlos Rodon, who leads the nation in strikeouts (137) and fanned 10 in 6.2 innings when he beat the Tar Heels in April.
Of course, every team in the ACC is facing a daunting path to Sunday’s championship game, which will take place at 1 p.m. on ESPN2.
All eight teams are in the top 25 in most recent RPI report and are projected by Baseball America as locks to make the NCAA Tournament field.
“Golly, it’s as good as I’ve seen it,” said UNC coach Mike Fox, who is aiming to win the tournament for the first time since 2007. “These eight teams going over there, I really think about anybody can win it. It’s crazy to say, but Miami’s going to run three pitchers at you that can beat anybody in our league.”
Coastal Division champion UNC is joined by N.C. State, Clemson and Miami in one pool, while No. 2 seed Florida State, No. 3 Virginia, No. 6 Virginia Tech and No. 7 Georgia Tech are in the other group. There will be round-robin play within each pool Wednesday through Saturday, and the pool winners advance to Sunday’s final.
UNC, which is ranked sixth in the latest Baseball America poll, had the best conference record in the regular season for the first time in 23 years and is seeking its first tournament title since 2007.
The Tar Heels (48-8) feature ACC player of the year Colin Moran, who leads the nation with 83 RBIs, and ACC pitcher of the year Kent Emanuel, who went 9-3 with a 2.28 ERA and will start against Miami.
But sixth-ranked UNC no longer is the prohibitive favorite after losing its two conference series to Georgia Tech and Virginia. The Tar Heels dropped at least one game to all three teams in their pool, going a combined 5-3.
Ninth-ranked N.C. State (42-13) recorded the second-most wins in school history during the regular season and is fighting for a national seed, which goes to the top eight teams.
No. 18 Clemson (39-17) has the best track record in the ACC Tournament, having appeared in the final 21 times in 39 years — nine more than any other school — and winning the event a record nine times.
Miami (35-21) is led by Chris Diaz (6-4, 1.58) and Bryan Radziewski (8-2, 1.64). It seeks to replicate the accomplishment of Georgia Tech, which beat the Hurricanes in the final as an eight seed a year ago.
No. 7 Florida State (44-12) is the top seed in the other pool after winning its seventh straight Atlantic Division title. Its starting pitchers are 13-2 with a 2.05 ERA over the past 16 games.
The Seminoles’ pitching will face a stern test against No. 5 Virginia (45-9), which has seven players hitting over .300. A league-high six Cavaliers made the All-ACC first or second teams.
No. 21 Virginia Tech (35-19) is one of the hottest teams in the field, having won 10 of its last 11 games, and Georgia Tech (33-23) has the top two home run hitters in the ACC in Daniel Palka (17) and Zane Evans (14) and the nation’s leader in wins in Buck Farmer (32).
Farmer (8-4, 2.80) will face Florida State lefty Scott Sitz (9-1, 1.66) in the tournament opener today (11 a.m., FSS), a fitting start to what should be a wide-open event.