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May 24, 2011
By Bill Hass
This has been a baseball season to remember at Wake Forest.
Shortly before the games began back in February, head coach Tom Walter underwent surgery to donate a kidney to Kevin Jordan, a freshman outfielder. A year before, Jordan had contracted a condition called ANCA vasculitis, which resulted in his white blood cells attacking healthy tissue in his body.
Despite the condition, which required dialysis up to 20 hours a day, Jordan managed to attend the fall semester at Wake. With his kidney function deteriorating, however, a transplant was needed. When none of his family members were a match, Walter had himself tested. When he proved to be a match, the coach never hesitated.
“To me, it was a no-brainer,” he said at the time.
Both men are now doing fine. While Jordan’s baseball future is unknown, he should be able to resume a normal life. Walter got back to the business of coaching his team.
Things didn’t go well for the Deacons most of the year. Through 21 games of the 30-game ACC season, they stood at 7-14 in conference play and looked as if they could miss the ACC tournament for the third straight year.
Then things changed. Wake won eight of its last nine ACC games to pull its record to 15-15 and clinch a spot in the tournament (eight of the 12 teams qualify). With a 25-28 overall record, the Deacons must win the tournament, which starts Wednesday in Durham, to make the NCAA field.
As the eighth seed, the Deacons must fight their way through games against top-seeded Virginia Wednesday at 3 p.m., fourth-seeded North Carolina Friday at 7 o’clock and fifth-seeded Miami Saturday at 3 o’clock. They must win their pool to make Sunday’s championship game.
On paper, they appear the least likely team to advance to Sunday. Their .230 team batting average is the lowest in the ACC and their 4.51 team ERA ranks eighth, and is the highest of any team in the tournament.
But Wake is not without its weapons. Carlos Lopez is hitting .284 with 11 homers and 34 RBIs. Mac Williamson has 11 homers and 48 RBIs. Those two are tied for second in the league in home runs. Matt Conway has driven in 37 runs and Steven Brooks leads the league with 30 stolen bases. Tim Cooney made second team All-ACC with a record of 7-2 with a 2.53 ERA and 86 strikeouts.
So, after all the adverse conditions the Deacons have fought through this season, plus the unpredictable nature of a baseball tournament, it would be foolish to count them out before the first pitch is thrown. They’re a long shot for sure, but that’s nothing that will bother Tom Walter.
As for the other seven teams, five will likely be selected for the NCAA tournament no matter what happens – No. 3 (USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll) Virginia, No. 6 North Carolina, No. 8 Florida State, No. 14 Clemson and No. 15 Georgia Tech.
A sixth team, No. 21 Miami, also stands a good chance although the Hurricanes, at 34-20 overall, could be in some trouble if they lose three times. Unranked NC State (33-23 overall) can get in by winning the tournament or possibly gain consideration by winning at least two games.
Here’s a quick look at seeds one through seven:
No. 1 Virginia (22-8, 45-9): The Cavaliers must regroup after being swept by North Carolina to finish the regular season. They possess the deepest starting staff in the league (2.33 ERA) with pitcher of the year Danny Hultzen (9-3, 1.49 ERA, 131 strikeouts) plus Tyler Wilson (6-0, 2.54), Will Roberts (10-1, 1.67) and Cody Winiarski (6-3, 3.30). And Branden Kline tops the league with 15 saves. Virginia only scored three runs last weekend but has a .302 team batting average. The hitters are led by David Coleman (.368), John Hicks (.352, 48 RBIs) and Stephen Poscia (.326, 48 RBIs).
No. 2 Florida State (19-11, 40-15): The Seminoles, winners of the Coastal Division, have lost three of their last four ACC games. They have the most power of any team in the tournament (52 home runs), led by James Ramsey (.349, 9 HR, 57 RBI), Jayce Boyd (.341, 53 RBIs) and Mike McGee (.338, 10 HR, 50 RBIs). And they have a bona fide ace in pitcher Sean Gilmartin (10-1, 1.35 ERA, 113 strikeouts) and a standout closer in Daniel Bennett (12 saves).
No. 3 Georgia Tech (22-8, 39-17): In years past, the Yellow Jackets have boasted a host of power hitters. They still have a couple in Daniel Palka (10 HR, 47 RBIs) and Matt Skole (.351, 8 HR, 55 RBIs). But they also rely on Kyle Wren (.370, second in the league) and a pitching staff that compiled a 2.86 ERA. Mark Pope (11-3, 1.54), Buck Farmer (10-2, 2.89) and Jed Bradley (6-3, 3.71) are the starters.
No. 4 North Carolina (20-10, 44-12): The Tar Heels carry a five-game winning streak, including three over Virginia, into the tournament. They have won 13 of their last 15 overall. The hitting is led by freshman Colin Moran, batting .355 with nine homers and a league-leading 67 RBIs. Levi Michael (.311, 46 RBIs) and Tommy Coyle (.307) are other top hitters. The pitching staff is led by Patrick Johnson (10-1, 2.74, 84 strikeouts), Kent Emanuel (6-1, 2.83) and Chris Munnelly (6-4, 3.98).
No. 5 Miami (19-10, 34-20): The 'Canes have lost four of their last six. Their top hitters are Nathan Melendres (.321, 22 stolen bases), Rony Rodriguez (.314, 10 HR, 36 RBIs) and Zeke DeVoss (.311). Bryan Radziewski (9-2, 2.94), Stephen Ewing (7-2, 2.76) and Eric Whaley (7-5, 2.61) comprise a solid staff and closer Daniel Miranda has 12 saves.
No. 6 Clemson (17-13, 39-17): The Tigers lead the league in hitting with a .320 mark and can field a lineup with seven .300 hitters. They enter the tournament winning 25 of their last 30 games. Tops among them are ACC Player of the Year Brad Miller, who leads the league at .431 with four homers, 44 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. Other good ones are Will Lamb (.343, 36 RBIs), Phil Pohl (.328), John Hinson (.326), Jeff Schaus (.322, 40 RBIs) and Richie Shaffer (.316, 10 HR, 45 RBIs, league-leading 58 runs). The top pitcher is Justin Surratt (7-1, 2.06).
No. 7 NC State (15-15, 33-23): The Wolfpack is one of the hottest teams coming in with five straight wins. Pratt Maynard (.335, 5 HR, 40 RBIs), Chris Diaz (.328) and Harold Riggins (.311) are top the hitters. The pitching staff compiled a 4.20 ERA, so the Pack will need a good outing from Cory Mazzoni (4-6, 3.61) and a contribution from reliever Chris Overman (6 wins, 6 saves).
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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