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May 14, 2010
By Bill Hass
Eight of the league’s 12 teams qualify for the tournament, which will be held May 26-30 in NewBridge Bank Park in Greensboro. Miami (18-6 in ACC play), Virginia (18-6), Georgia Tech (17-7) and Florida State (16-8) have clinched spots. Clemson (14-10) and Virginia Tech (14-10) are both in excellent shape, although each needs a couple more wins to be sure.
So that projection accounts for six spots. Among the rest of the teams, Wake Forest and Maryland have been eliminated and Duke, while mathematically alive, is a long shot.
That leaves three teams fighting for the last two tournament spots – Boston College (13-14), North Carolina (11-13) and NC State (11-13). The last two weekends of the regular season will determine which two make it.
And once the tournament starts, all bets are off. Starting pitching will be a premium and if three or four hitters get hot at the right time, it’s anybody’s tournament. The champion receives an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, which is probably the safest way into that field for those three teams.
The Wolfpack might face the toughest road into the ACC field. NC State plays three games at Florida State, starting today, and finishes with three games at home against Duke, which usually plays them tough. When it comes to tiebreakers, Boston College and North Carolina both have the advantage over State, so it must finish ahead of one of those teams in the standings to ensure a spot.
ACC teams play 30 conference games, which break down into 10 series of three games each. That means every team has one other team it doesn’t face during the season. North Carolina and Boston College didn’t play, so in case they tie for eighth place, the tiebreaker would be their records against the top teams in the league.
For much of the season, North Carolina looked like it wouldn’t even qualify for the 50-mile trip to the tournament. But the Tar Heels hoisted themselves back into contention by sweeping Wake Forest last weekend.
It’s not going to be easy, though. This weekend the Heels are on the road at Virginia and they follow that by closing at home with a series against much-improved Virginia Tech.
Boston College is in a curious position. The Eagles have just one series left, which falls on the final weekend at home against Georgia Tech. By then they will know how State and Carolina did this weekend and what must be done against the Yellow Jackets. It’s possible the three teams could be tied heading into their respective final series next weekend, turning the heat up even more in the battle for those final ACC Championship spots.
WOLFPACK’S IRON MAN: If NC State needs a sparkplug in its drive to make the ACC tournament, the Pack is likely to turn to senior second baseman Dallas Poulk.
Poulk is hitting .371 with nine home runs, 50 runs batted in and 67 runs scored. His 1.37 runs per game average ranks eighth in the country in the latest NCAA statistics. He recently had a 17-game hitting streak. What he does on the field is plenty, but Poulk’s value to the Wolfpack exceeds that.
“We all know it’s going to come down to the last two weekends,” said State coach Elliott Avent, “and a lot of people are going to follow his lead. He’ll be the same loose guy he’s always been who shows up to play and always believes his team is going to win. He plays with a great deal of confidence.”
Poulk has been an impact player since his freshman season, when he hit .394 and was named to the Freshman All-America team. Avent believes he’s an even better hitter now.
“He’s hitting the ball to all of field with authority,” Avent said, “and he’s just become a complete player – better bunter, hit and run. Whatever the situation, he can do all facets of the game now much better than he could as a freshman.”
Poulk has been a versatile player, which Avent believes will help his value in this summer’s baseball draft. Although he has played more at second base than anywhere else, he spent the bulk of last season at shortstop and has played a few games this season in center field.
Another aspect of Poulk’s game is his durability. He has played in all 49 of State’s games, the only Pack player to do that.
“I’d love to give him a little break,” Avent said, “but I know he doesn’t want it and he’s the guy who seems to need it the least, so he’s the guy who hasn’t gotten one.”
Avent said Poulk worked out hard in the weight room over the summer and watches his diet, all of which helps keep him in great shape and sets an example for younger players.
Poulk is moving up the ladder in career stats at NC State, currently ranking eighth in at-bats, eighth in triples, 10th in walks and 11th in runs scored. Naturally, the more games the Pack plays, the higher he’ll go.
But where Poulk stands in career stats isn’t what is on his mind now.
“He plays relaxed and he’s loose but with a great seriousness about winning,” Avent said. “He’s very durable and people look up to him. I’ve got great respect for him.”
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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