ACC Baseball Tournament Preview
DURHAM -- This week's ACC Baseball Tournament is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory. All eight teams appear to have punched their tickets to the NCAA Tournament, so the next five days promise to deliver some great action on the diamond. Check out Boydsworld.com's current RPI standings, and you'll see all eight ACC tournament qualifiers in the top 22 nationally. The team that emerges victorious on Sunday afternoon will have run through the ACC Baseball gauntlet.
As the #1 seed, Carolina got to choose their day off. With the Florida State game on Monday, Mike Fox and his staff elected to begin play on Thursday. That sets up their weekend rotation nicely. Kent Emanuel will throw on Thursday, Benton Moss on Friday and Hobbs Johnson on Sunday, just as they did last week for the series against Virginia. Let's take a look at the Tar Heels' matchups this week.
Thursday 3 p.m.
#1 North Carolina vs. #8 Miami
North Carolina sends the 2013 ACC Pitcher of the Year, junior left-hander Kent Emanuel (9-3, 2.28) to the bump, while Miami likely counters with sophomore LHP Andrew Suarez. Emanuel took the loss in a 4-1 Miami victory back on March 15th (Carolina's first loss of the year). He gave up just two hits through four before the Hurricanes struck for three runs in the 5th. Suarez was brilliant against the Tar Heels in the rubber match on Sunday. He allowed a single hit through 6.2 while punching out seven. Hurricane reliever A.J. Salcines was saddled with the loss as he gave up a three-run Skye Bolt home run in the 8th.
Carolina vs. Miami in 2013: 2-1, .300 batting average, .204 batting average against.
Friday 7 p.m.
#1 North Carolina vs. #5 Clemson
Carolina will stick to the script and go with sophomore RHP Benton Moss (8-1, 3.21). Moss got off to a brilliant start in 2 2/3 innings against the Tigers back on March 31, striking out six of the first seven batters he saw. Rain forced the game to be delayed until the next day, when Trent Thornton went the rest of the way for Carolina.
Clemson has not announced a starter, but look at a pair of freshmen, Matthew Crownover (7-2, 2.05), a lefty who has worked his way into the weekend rotation, or right-hander Clate Schmidt (3-3, 4.89). Schmidt started opposite Moss back on March 31 and was not sharp, giving up five hits and two runs in two innings. Crownover started the series finale for the Tigers, working 4 2/3 and giving up three runs on seven hits.
Carolina vs. Clemson in 2013: 2-1, .360 batting average, .229 batting average against.
Saturday 7 p.m.
#1 North Carolina vs. #4 N.C. State
Hobbs Johnson (4-0, 2.18) finally gets his shot at the Wolfpack while Elliott Avent's bunch goes with Carlos Rodon (8-2, 3.86). Johnson's game three start was rained out in Raleigh, while Rodon earned the win in game two for the Wolfpack. He was sharp against the Tar Heels, scattering seven hits across 6 2/3 innings, and the two runs charged to Rodon were due to a home run surrendered by reliever Grant Sasser. But Rodon has been hot and cold in 2013. Last weekend against Duke, he threw 128 pitches and struck out 15(!) in nine complete, but did allow six runs (four earned) in a 10-inning Wolfpack win.
Hobbs Johnson got off to a slow start in 2013, but appears to have gotten back on track. In his start after missing the N.C. State game, he threw five innings of two-hit baseball against the Citadel. He got off to a strong start last weekend against Virginia, allowing just two hits (three runs) in 7 1/3 innings.
Carolina vs. N.C. State in 2013: 1-1, .338 batting average, .290 batting average against.
This is a hard tournament to call, as all eight teams are playing good baseball. Carolina has beaten all three of these teams but has lost to all three of these teams in 2013. Emanuel has taken losses in his last two starts, so he'll look to rebound and make a good impression with fewer than two weeks until the MLB First-Year Player Draft. Moss was brilliant against the Tigers and will want to make up for lost time. Johnson was amped for that Monday start at N.C. State, and when it didn't happen, he threw fire two days later against the Citadel. Carolina took two tough weekend series losses over the last two weeks, but bounced back to knock off Florida State in a non-conference classic on Monday. Skye Bolt has returned to the Carolina lineup and with a 2-4 night against the Seminoles, appears to be getting his groove back. The Tar Heels could have used the switch-hitting Bolt against Rodon in Raleigh, but he'll get his shot on Saturday.
It's going to be a great tournament in Durham, even if it's not all that important. A team that is desperate to jump up a line in the NCAA Tournament, say from on the bubble to an at-large bid, or to grab a regional spot, could go all out this weekend. But you can easily burn out your pitching ahead of the NCAA Tournament, so the coaching staffs are going to be careful. Should the Tar Heels make Sunday's championship game, I wouldn't fret about throwing Chris Munnelly or Reilly Hovis, as they are almost definitely as good or better than any other team's fourth starter.
Again, it's going to be fun, so enjoy the games at DBAP this weekend.