Atlantic Champion FSU Faces Challenging Pool

Mike Martin’s Seminoles will headline Pool B in this year’s ACC Baseball Championship.

Click here to view our preview of “Pool A,” which includes North Carolina, NC State, Clemson, and Miami).

No. 2 Florida State (44-12, 20-10)

Florida State is 12-3 since suffering a sweep at Virginia,claiming the Atlantic Division crown and its accompanying No. 2 seed in the ACC Tournament as a result.  Their series win against Clemson to conclude the regular season earned them the division, as well as a top-five spot in the national RPI rankings.

On Monday, the Seminoles played a non-conference game against the other divisional champions, the North Carolina Tar Heels, as a tune-up for this week’s tournament.  The Heels scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth to secure a 4-3 win in what could be a preview of Sunday’s ACC Championship.

Florida State’s strength is its pitching, as two Seminole hurlers are in the top six in the conference in earned run average.  Scott Sitz was named to the All-ACC First Team, posting a 9-1 record and a 1.66 ERA.  Meanwhile, sophomore Luke Weaver earned a spot in the Florida State rotation mid-season with his strong pitching.  He finished with a 6-2 record, a 2.08 ERA, and 91 strikeouts to earn All-ACC Second Team honors.

Freshman outfielder DJ Stewart leads the Florida State offense, driving in 51 runs during the regular season.  His 21 doubles tied him for the second in the conference, just one behind Virginia Tech’s Tyler Horan.

No. 3 Virginia (45-9, 22-8)

Virginia may have just missed out on a Coastal Division title, but they did take two of three games from No.1 seed North Carolina at Boshamer Stadium last weekend.  Claiming that pivotal series on the road should give the Cavaliers an extra bit of confidence heading into the postseason.

Virginia boasts the ACC’s Coach of the Year in Brian O’Connor and Freshman of the Year Joe McCarthy.  The Cavaliers’ six All-ACC selections led the conference. Outfielder Mike Papi (ACC-best .408 batting average and .669 slugging percentage), second baseman Reed Gragnani (.310 average, 48 RBI), utility player Nick Howard (.325 batting average, 3.43 earned run average), and relief pitcher Kyle Crockett (1.97 earned run average, 10 saves) all made First Team.

Behind Papi, Gragnani and company, the Cavaliers batted .317 as a team to lead the ACC.  Virginia averaged 8.27 runs per game in 2013, giving them one of the most potent offenses in the nation.  They don’t just hit for average, either: The Cavaliers’ .469 slugging percentage places them seventh in the nation and atop the ACC in that category.

While the pitching staff isn’t as decorated, it has been nearly as effective.  Virginia is fourth in the ACC in opposing batting average, earned run average, and strikeouts.  Their combination of offense and defense places them second in the nation in run differential (+4.4 runs per game), behind North Carolina.  It is that balance that could lead the Cavaliers to their third ACC title since 2009.

No. 6 Virginia Tech (35-19, 15-14)

Sixth-seeded teams have performed well in the six years of the pool format in the ACC Baseball Championship. The sixth seed has reached the championship game three times, winning once (Virginia, 2009). The only No. 6 to not finish pool play with a record of 2-1 or better was NC State in 2007.  In terms of wins and losses, the sixth seed is tied with the top seed as the best performer since 2007 (13-8).  Virginia Tech will hope to continue that success with a strong showing in Durham.

The Hokies may have finished sixth in the ACC, but they are 15th in the nation in RPI. Their success stems from an explosive offense. With sluggers Tyler Horan (11 home runs), Andrew Rash (9), and Mark Zagunis (8) leading the Hokie offense, the team boasts three of the conference’s top 11 home run hitters.

Those sluggers also hit for average, with each getting base hits at a .327 or better clip.  Third baseman Chad Pinder also bats .322, giving the Hokies four hitters in the ACC’s top 25 in batting average.  As a team, Virginia Tech is batting .290 with a .438 slugging percentage, both good for fourth in the conference.

Virginia Tech is also entering this week’s tournament in full stride.  Since a stretch of five consecutive losses in mid-April that included a sweep at the hands of UNC, the Hokies have won 13 of their last 15 games.  They won each of their last four ACC series to finish the season, including their home set with Virginia.

No. 7 Georgia Tech (33-23, 15-15)

The model of consistent inconsistency, Georgia Tech has struggled to beat the conference’s best teams with regularity.  Yes, the Yellow Jackets took two wins in a series against North Carolina just two weekends ago, as well as in a road series against Virginia Tech.  However, they also come into the tournament having dropped two games to No. 8 seed Miami, two games against a Georgia squad that finished last in the SEC and fired its head coach, and three games at home to NC State.

Like Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech boasts an offense that is always in scoring position.  Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech were 1-2 in home runs, with GT finishing ahead of the Hokies 54-48. Outfielder Daniel Palka and catcher Zane Evans were the conference’s top two home run hitters, delivering 17 and 14 blasts, respectively.

However, the team’s pitching has been suspect.  The Yellow Jackets have allowed 33 home runs, second to only Wake Forest for most homers surrendered in the conference. The team’s 4.51 ERA is the worst of the eight ACC teams in this week’s tournament.  Outside of ace Buck Farmer (2.80 ERA, 104 strikeouts), the team has had to rely heavily on its bats to produce wins in 2013.

In fact, Zane Evans has been one of the team’s most reliable bullpen options (figuratively speaking, since he spends most games behind the plate rather than in the dugout).  Evans boasts a 3.44 earned run average in 13 appearances.  For better or worse, that means the junior could be shedding the tools of ignorance if the Yellow Jackets need big outs late in games this week and in the NCAA Tournament.


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