Truly Wide Open ACC Baseball Championship Begins Wednesday

May 21, 2013

By Bill Hass
theACC.com

 

 

Common practice among coaches is to say a tournament is “wide open and anyone can win.”

So when it comes to the 2013 ACC Baseball Championship, guess what? It really is wide open and anyone can win.

There are some solid reasons why that particular cliché is appropriate for this tournament, which begins Wednesday at 11 a.m. and runs through Sunday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

First, the field is imposing, with six of the eight teams ranked in the top 25 and four in the Top 10. Baseball America puts Virginia fifth, North Carolina sixth, Florida State seventh, NC State ninth, Clemson 18th and Virginia Tech 21st.

The coaches’ poll flips UNC to fifth and Virginia to sixth with FSU, NC State and Clemson in the same spots (it doesn’t rank Virginia Tech).

And in the NCAA RPI rankings, all eight teams are in the Top 25: UNC No. 2 Virginia No. 3, Florida State No. 5, NC State No. 7, Clemson No. 12, Virginia Tech No. 15, Miami No. 20 and Georgia Tech No. 22.

Picking a favorite is difficult. North Carolina was ranked No. 1 most of the season but faltered a bit late. The Tar Heels lost their last two series, to Georgia Tech and Virginia. Still, they have the ACC Player of the Year in Colin Moran (who leads the country with 83 RBIs) and Pitcher of the Year in Kent Emanuel.

Each team is a threat in some way. Virginia has the top team batting average at .317 and the league’s leading hitter in Mike Papi at .408. NC State boasts a tremendous on-base threat in Trea Turner (.383, 24 stolen bases) and a top power pitcher in Carlos Rodon (8-2, 137 strikeouts).

Georgia Tech leads the league with 54 home runs and has the top two individual power threats in Daniel Palka with 17 homers and Zane Evans with 14. The Jackets hit 11 homers in last year’s tournament, which helped boost them to the title.

Good pitchers abound. Emanuel and Trent Thornton of North Carolina, Scott Sitz and Brandon Leibrandt of Florida State, Devin Burke of Virginia Tech and Daniel Gossett of Clemson have all won nine games. Several others have eight wins to their credit.

There’s another factor in the “wide open” sentiment. In 2012, when the tournament was played in Greensboro, eighth-seeded Georgia Tech – which was the final team to qualify – stormed through and won four games to capture the championship and the automatic NCAA playoff berth.

This season Miami is the No. 8 seed and the Hurricanes are looking for a similar performance. They made the championship game last year as the No. 6 seed.

“Anybody can win with this format,” said Miami coach Jim Morris. “All it takes is for a team to get hot like Georgia Tech did last year.”

The format Morris referred to is pool play. The eight teams are divided into two pools and each club plays a three-game round-robin. The two pool winners then meet in the championship game.

This is the final year of pool play. The tournament reverts to a double-elimination format next season.

“I don’t like double-elimination,” Morris said. “You can blow out your pitching staff, especially your bullpen, which hurts you for the NCAA tournament.”

Miami went 14-16 in ACC play and stands 35-21 on the season, but Morris isn’t ready to write the history of this team quite yet.

“This is not the time to evaluate things,” he said. “You do that when the season is finished. Right now we have to get hot and play well, get into a regional and win it, then a super regional and see what happens.

“We have worked hard. We have four freshmen starting and they’re getting better. We don’t score a lot of runs; this team is all about pitching and defense.”

Statistics bear that out. The Hurricanes rank 11th among ACC teams with a .262 batting average, 11th in home runs with 13 and 11th in runs scored with 468. When the offense clicks, it’s usually behind Chantz Mack (.299, 13 stolen bases), Brad Fleger (.291) and David Thompson (.284, six homers, 42 RBIs).

The starting pitching usually keeps Miami in games. Bryan Radziewski, the Hurricanes’ only All-ACC selection, is 8-2 with a 1.64 ERA and 96 strikeouts. Chris Diaz is 6-4 with a 1.54 ERA and Andrew Suarez is 3-4, 3.13. Closer Eric Nedeljkovic had a 1.42 ERA with 13 saves.

Miami’s first game will be Thursday at 3 p.m. against No. 1 seed North Carolina. Morris doesn’t mind the wait.

“I’m glad we don’t play until Thursday,” he said. “It gives our pitchers an extra day of rest.”

And it’s not likely the ‘Canes will be daunted by their opening opponent. Back in March they pinned a 4-1 loss on the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, with Diaz beating Emanuel. Carolina did recover to win the next two games.

One thing you can say about this tournament is that it’s not likely to go according to what’s on paper. Last season the top seed Florida State lost its opener to Georgia Tech and went on to finish 0-3 in round-robin play.

With eight teams this good, don’t be surprised by anything that happens.


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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