Heels Lead First Pool of ACC Tournament

Benton Moss is one of four UNC pitchers in the ACC's top ten in opposing batting average.
Benton Moss is one of four UNC pitchers in the ACC’s top ten in opposing batting average.

Click here to view our preview of “Pool B,” which includes Florida State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech.

No. 1 North Carolina (47-8, 21-7)

The Tar Heels posted the best record in the conference, securing the number one seed for the ACC Tournament. For most of the season, they were also considered the best team in the nation, as scorching 39-2 start distanced North Carolina from the pack.

However, North Carolina’s back-loaded schedule cooled excitement in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels are 3-5 over their last three conference series, against NC State, Georgia Tech, and Virginia. They played well enough to hang on to the top seed for the ACC Baseball Championship, but the Heels are certainly stumbling into Durham this week.

One positive for the Tar Heels entering the postseason is their deep pitching staff. The team leads the ACC in earned run average (2.62) and opposing batting average (.210). Four of the ACC’s top ten pitchers in opposing batting average are on the UNC roster (Hobbs Johnson, Trent Thornton, Benton Moss, ACC Pitcher of the Year Kent Emanuel). When having to play four games in the span of five days (or, worse case scenario, five games in three days during NCAA Regional play), it’s important to have a number of reliable pitchers who can be trusted with the ball.

UNC also has third baseman Colin Moran (.376 BA, 83 RBI, 13 HR) to anchor the offense. The ACC Player of the Year will likely be one of the first players selected in this June’s MLB Draft. For now, he is the best hitter for the conference’s highest-scoring offense, tallying 458 runs over 55 regular season games.

If North Carolina is going to win the ACC championship, they will likely have to beat their neighbors, NC State, on Saturday evening. The two teams split the first two games of their rivalry series during the regular season, but the rubber game was rained out.

No. 4 NC State (42-13, 19-10)

The Wolfpack needed to sweep Duke and a Clemson series win to claim the Atlantic Division and its No. 2 seed. NC State handled their business, but Florida State’s 6-1 win to close the regular season left the ‘Pack a half-game shy of the title.

Nonetheless, NC State is a team situated in the nation’s top ten (9th in RPI, 9th in this week’s Baseball America poll), which shows just how deep this conference tournament will be. The Wolfpack are led offensively by the electrifying Trea Turner.

Turner missed a chunk of time with an ankle injury, and NC State stumbled in his absence. Since his return, the team is 26-4. Turner is second in the conference in batting average (.383) and stole 24 bases to claim the school record for steals in a career.

On the mound, the Wolfpack is led by Carlos Rodon. The sophomore led the ACC with 137 strikeouts, 33 more than second place Buck Farmer. Rodon had a rough start to the season, but he has pitched exceptionally during the team’s hot streak and will be every bit as dominant as promised down the stretch. As a team, NC State leads the ACC with 493 strikeouts.

No. 5 Clemson (39-17, 18-12)

The Tigers stumbled in midseason, including a stretch when they lost four of five games. Since then, they have had winning streaks of eleven and nine games before losing their weekend series with Florida State to conclude the regular season.

Clemson’s best asset is its pitching. As a staff, the team is third in the ACC in earned run average (2.97) The rotation features two of the conference’s top pitchers in freshman Matthew Crownover (7-2, 2.05 ERA, 91 strikeouts) and sophomore Daniel Gossett (9-3, 2.20 ERA, 83 strikeouts).

Offensively, the Tigers are middle-of-the-road in the ACC, sitting seventh in batting average (.282) and eighth in runs scored. Clemson tries to compensate for the lack of pop with aggressive baserunning, leading the league in steals and steal attempts. Thomas Brittle, Shane Kennedy, and Steven Duggar all sit in the top 15 of the conference’s stolen base leaders. Kennedy batted .321 and swiped 18 bases for the Tigers in 2013, earning him a spot on the All-ACC Second Team alongside second baseman Steve Wilkerson (.313 batting average, 16 doubles, 10 stolen bases).

Clemson was 26-3 against teams outside of the top 50 in RPI this season, but 13-14 against top 50 teams. All eight teams in the ACC Baseball Championship are in the top 25, with Georgia Tech’s 22nd being the worst (relatively speaking, of course) of the eight teams.

No. 8 Miami (35-21, 14-16)

The Miami Hurricanes round out Pool A, as the eighth and final team to qualify for the ACC tournament. Miami struggled offensively, but strong pitching helped them edge out Maryland, Wake Forest, and Duke over the final weekend.

The Hurricanes are batting .262 as a team, placing them 11th of the 12 conference teams (Boston College batted .209). Miami scored just 4.6 runs per game, a full run per game less than the next-lowest scoring team in the ACC Tournament (Clemson). Miami will either need a heat surge or dominant pitching to avoid a miserable showing in Durham.

It’s safe to assume, however, they will get dominant pitching for at least one game in the tournament. Hurricanes’ ace Bryan Radziewski posted a 1.64 earned run average during the regular season, including a conference-best .175 opposing batting average. The junior southpaw missed most of 2012 after suffering a torn labrum, but has shined in his return.

Take heart, Miami fans: Last year’s ACC Tournament was won by Georgia Tech as the eighth seed, and Wake Forest reached the championship game as the eighth seed in 2007 (the first year of the pool format). So while the deck may be stacked against the Hurricanes, there is a precedent of success for bottom-rank teams in the format.


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