Wolfpack, Tar Heels have a history in ACC tournament

The two archrivals have produced some memorable games in postseasons past.

Christine T. Nguyen—North State Journal
A crowd gathers in the stands during the N.C. State-North Carolina baseball game Friday

NC State and North Carolina will look to add another chapter to a history of epic postseason clashes when the two archrivals meet in a winner-take-all game on Friday night to end pool play in the 2017 ACC baseball tournament. The match up between the seventh-seeded Wolfpack (35-22, 17-14 ACC) and second-seeded Tar Heels will determine who advances from Pool B to play the winner of Pool C in Saturday’s semifinal game; the 11th-seeded Boston College Eagles were eliminated with a 6-1 loss to NC State on Tuesday. The Heels also topped BC, 11-0 Thursday in what was essentially an exhibition game.Friday’s game will be the latest in a large number of games between the Pack and Tar Heels in postseason play, including a 4-3 Heels victory in the 2014 ACC tournament in Greensboro that featured former NC State and current Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner finding himself on the wrong end of a controversial call after being called out trying to steal home. And who could forget the 18-inning classic at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in 2013? That contest, a 2-1 win for UNC, was the longest contest in ACC tournament history, and also set an attendance record for a baseball game in the state of North Carolina, drawing 11,329. The Pack fell in that historic game despite getting 10 innings of one-hit ball with 14 strikeouts from former ace and current Chicago White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon.That same season, the Pack met its nemesis twice in the College World Series in Omaha, the first being an 8-1 win, with the second being a 7-0 loss that ended the Pack’s run. The current NC State team will hope to be part of another historic contest.”It’s always fun playing them; I know a couple guys on their team,” senior starting pitcher Johnny Piedmonte said. “I was here; I wasn’t playing that year but I think it was like three or four years ago when they had that 18-inning game against Carolina in the ACC tournament. Hopefully we’ll have another one of those. That was one of the best games I’ve ever watched in my whole life, so I’m hopeful to be part of that.”The Pack will face the Heels’ ace and the 2017 ACC pitcher of the year, junior J.B. Bukauskas. The righty finished the year 8-0 with a sparkling 1.87 ERA, holding opponents to a .181 batting average. State will counter with junior lefty Brian Brown, who has enjoyed a solid season in his own right, going 4-1 with a 3.12 ERA after starting the season recovering from an injury.On paper, the Heels would seem to have a sizeable advantage coming into this one. With an undefeated pitcher, a school record 23 wins, a series win over State in Chapel Hill earlier this season, both a better team ERA (2.85 vs. 4.02) and batting average (.283 vs. .279) than the Pack, the numbers certainly point to the team in light blue. It’s not that simple, however.It’s been a tale of two seasons for the Pack. The team came in with high expectations, ranked no. 6 in the country, but started poorly. Following a mid-season sweep at the hands of the Eagles, the team sat at 20-20 and appeared to even be in danger of missing the ACC tournament altogether. The Pack caught fire, however, rattling off 14 wins in its last 16 games including the tournament-opening win over BC, and putting up 7.9 runs per game over that stretch. This red-hot NC State team is a confident bunch, ready for the next challenge in front of it.”[It’s] the overall confidence of the whole team,” junior first baseman Stephen Pitarra said. “Early on in the year, it was kind of like we’d get down and weren’t confident that we were going to come back. Now we feel like we’re going to win every game.”NC State had coach Elliott Avent saw his club fight through the tough times, and get rewarded with a stretch of its best baseball at the most important time of the season.”More than anything, it’s just a testament to our guys sticking with it,” Avent said. I think it’s [three] things when that happens: they believe in one another, they care about one another and they have high character. That’s what our ball club is all about.”One thing’s for certain: given the history between. these two teams, don’t be surprised if Friday’s game produces another dramatic instant classic that will be talked about for years to come.