May 25, 2013
Durham, N.C. — North Carolina and North Carolina State are each top-10 national baseball programs that happen to be in-state rivals, have a national seed to play for and a conference tournament title chance on the line. When the ACC scheduled them to play the pool-play finale at Durham Bulls Athletic Park Saturday night, they had their fingers crossed that the game would still be relevant.
To the winner: an ACC title shot Sunday against six-seed Virginia Tech and a virtual lock at a national seed. To the loser: a day off to watch your rival compete for a title and the agony of the selection process to play out.
While each team could very well earn a national seed regardless of Saturday’s outcome, neither program wants to take that chance.
The Wolfpack, once on the brink of falling out of the top 25 altogether this season, are one of the nation’s hottest teams, having won 26 of their last 29 games. One of those loses came on their home field against UNC.
NC State head coach Elliott Avent uttered familiar words following a 7-1 win over Miami Friday.
“I thought we played really well, but then again, I could say that for probably the last 30 games,” he said.
The Tar Heels have set themselves up nicely with a 50-9 overall record, but they have lost six of their last 17 games - albeit each one to eventual tournament teams - including twice at home.
Head-to-head on the year, UNC and NC State split a pair of games in Raleigh before mother nature claimed Game 3. Saturday night will mark the deciding game in the season series.
UNC will show up to the park Sunday on short sleep after playing an ACC tournament record 5-hour, 14-inning marathon that stretched into the early part of Saturday morning. Their saving grace: reliever Reily Hovis ate up five innings out of the bullpen and eventually got the win. The team needed just six arms in the 14-inning affair and four of them threw less than two innings.
The Tar Heels are expected to start left-hander Hobbs Johnson (4-0, 2.18 ERA). The junior made 13 starts on the year, but missed out on the Wolfpack when the rains came on a scheduled Sunday start.
For NC State, there is no question as to who they will give the pearl to. Sophomore All-ACC pitcher Carlos Rodon has been a weekend starter all year for the Wolfpack and Avent has built this week’s pitching schedule around the impending start against the Heels. Rodon was on the hill when NC State defeated the Tar Heels in late April.
Bring on the masses
One year ago Sunday, UNC and NC State drew 10,229 people to NewBridge Bank Park in Greensboro, marking the highest attendance for any collegiate game played in the state of North Carolina as well as setting the high-water mark for the ACC Tournament. On July 4, 2010, Durham Bulls Athletic Park hosted a stadium-best 11,674 for a Bulls game against the Gwinnett Braves.
Saturday’s attendance mark is expected to fall in between those marks, setting new highs for the ACC and college baseball In the state, but DBAP’s capacity will experience some limitations.
DBAP will have the outfield grass open as well as standing room only seats available for the game that has been sold out. However, with the insertion of the ACC tournament’s operation, certain suites as well as the party decks are being used for other purposes.
"It's kind of like last year," NC State shortstop Trea Turner said, referencing the 2012 ACC tournament. "We want another crack at them (UNC) because we think we can hang with them."