The last postseason in college sports start this week as the ACC Baseball Championship gets underway at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park in, you guessed it, Durham, NC this week.
Over the weekend, Carolina was swept by Clemson down in South Carolina. Thursday’s game was a 14-7 thrashing, while the other two games were close 5-4 and 3-1 losses. Friday’s was especially painful as the Tar Heels had rallied to tie it in the ninth only to see Clemson score the walk-off win. It should be noted that Vance Honeycutt sat out the series, and in close games like this it’s obvious he would have made a difference.
The losses put Carolina as the seventh seed in the event, and now’s when we have to explain that there’s a reason why it’s called the ACC Baseball Championship instead of a Tournament. Twelve of the ACC’s fourteen baseball playing schools qualify for the event, and are seeded based on overall conference record. Once the seeds are determined, four pools are drawn up. Seeds 1-4 are the top seeds in each pool, 5-8 are the middle seeds, and that leaves 9-12 as the bottom, and it’s done in a way that the higher seeds get the lower of each tier (Wake, for example, gets the eight and twelve seed, Virginia gets the seven and eleven, and so on). Each team plays the other in their pool, guaranteeing that each team that made the trek to Durham will get two games. Once everyone has played their games, the winner of each pool moves to the Saturday semifinals, and the winners of those games play for the championship on Sunday at noon. The semis are set up that if every top seed advances, it would be 1-4 and 2-3, it’s NOT reseeded. This means Carolina can’t play Wake, or anyone else in group A, until the title game.
“Oh, but wait,” you say, “if they are only playing two games it’s completely possible that teams could end up tied at 1-1.” You would be correct, and thus the tie-breaker is being the highest seed. What does this mean for Carolina? If they lose their first game, they are out of contention from playing during the weekend no matter what happens the rest of the week. Why? Well, if they lose to Georgia Tech, then they will have one loss, and the best they can do is 1-1. That means they’d either end in a three way tie with Virginia and Georgia Tech, or end up 0-2. In the first scenario Virginia advances in the second Georgia Tech has won the pool.
It’s a somewhat ridiculous setup, but it’s what happens in the age of fourteen teams in a conference when they all want to get games in to help their RPI for the NCAA Tournament. It’s also the one they’ve all agreed to precisely for that reason.
With that said, with the pools set on Saturday, on Sunday the game times were announced, and Carolina has a chance to know pretty quickly whether or not they’ll have a chance to advance to the weekend.
For the first time in a while the Tar Heels will not have a prime time game, instead playing at 3 PM Tuesday and 3 PM Thursday. The set up is such that all of Pool B plays their three games at 3 PM three days in a row, and all three teams will know by the end of Wednesday’s game what the stakes are for Thursday. Georgia Tech going 2-0 gets them to Saturday and gives them a great chance to set up their pitching for the title. UNC winning takes pressure off Virginia, as they know they can lose Wednesday’s game and set up to win Thursday to move on. UNC going 2-0 gives them Friday off and makes everyone but the Thursday starter available on Saturday.
In another nice change for the championship, all of the games before the title game will be on the ACC Network this season instead of scattered around the various Regional Sports Networks. This had caused a considerable amount of consternation in the past as people struggled to find the event when it made sense for it to be on the league’s channel.
If you are interested in going tickets are on sale at the Durham Bulls website. You can get books for the entire event, or buy for a session. If you want to go to either of the Pool games for UNC, you’ll need to buy the day session. The semifinals and finals are their own tickets as well. It’s worth noting that the ACC is running promotions during some of the days in conjunction with the Bulls, and Thursday will be Dollar Dogs during each of the games. If you want to check out other nights, Bark in the Park will be Wednesday, and fireworks will happen after the 7 PM Notre Dame/Wake Forest game Friday.
So, in clearer form:
The Diamond Heels will play Tuesday and Thursday at 3 p.m. this week at the ACC Baseball Championship, taking on Georgia Tech and Virginia. pic.twitter.com/6VdLdn3UZO— Carolina Baseball (@DiamondHeels) May 21, 2023
If you have an afternoon, check out the Diamond Heels in Durham. Either way, the NCAA Tournament is close and a strong run through the ACC could give Carolina a shot at hosting in the regional round.