DURHAM — The ACC Baseball Tournament is having one final fling in Durham before it heads off to parts unknown next year.
Durham Bulls Athletic Park is hosting the event for the ninth time and the fifth time in the last seven years. The stadium’s regular tenant, the Durham Bulls, will no longer be able to request that the International League allow them to hit the road for a week in May so the DBAP can host the tourney, however.
So the tournament will have a new home next year and, unless the International League reconsiders, for the foreseeable future.
The last call, for a while anyway, promises to be an entertaining one. It will feature all four in-state teams, a chance to bid farewell to a Hall of Fame coach and six teams currently ranked in the nation’s top 25.
As usual, the tournament will feature pool play, with the winners of each pool advancing to a single elimination final four over the weekend.
Unfortunately for fans of the home state schools, three of the four North Carolina schools find themselves with the toughest paths to the weekend.
Pool C, home to NC State, Wake Forest and Florida State, appears to be the Pool of Death. The Wolfpack are ranked No. 14 in the USA Today Coaches poll and the Seminoles are No. 22. The Deacs don’t have a national ranking, but they do feature the newly crowned ACC Player of the Year in sophomore first baseman Bobby Seymour.
The Pack are the No. 3 overall seed in the tourney, thanks to their second-place finish in the Atlantic Division. They led the conference in pitching with a 4.21 ERA in conference games. NC State also has two first-team All-ACC position players in catcher Patrick Bailey and shortstop Will Wilson. Bailey tied for the league lead in doubles, while Wilson was the defensive player of the year and is fourth in the league in batting for the entire season.
Six-seed FSU has the emotional advantage. Legendary coach Mike Martin is retiring after this season after 2,022 wins, and the Noles will likely need to take home the tournament title in order to extend Martin’s 39-year streak of NCAA bids to an even 40 — every year he’s been Florida State coach.
The Deacs made it in as the 10th seed and will look for a strong week from Seymour, who led the league in batting at .377 and has a national-best 92 RBIs, the most by a college player in 11 years.
Pool D actually has a slightly better combined record (.659 to .644) and the same conference record (.544) as Pool C. North Carolina (15) and Miami (18) are both in the Top 25. The Hurricanes are the No. 4 seed, while the Heels are No. 5. UNC DH/utility player Aaron Sabato was named the Freshman of the Year after his 10 home runs in conference games were third in the league. No. 9 Virginia, one of four teams in the field (along with Notre Dame, Boston College and Wake) with a sub-.500 conference record, rounds out the field.
Duke was assigned to Pool B, where the Blue Devils will be the seventh seed and playing on their home field away from home. Duke shook off a slow start to the year to go on an impressive late-season run to earn a spot in the conference tournament. Still, the Blue Devils likely still have to post a few wins this week to earn an NCAA bid.
They’ll have to do it against Georgia Tech, the tourney’s No. 2 seed and Coastal Division champion, and Notre Dame, who slipped in as the 11th seed despite having a losing overall (24-28) and ACC (13-17) record this year. The Yellow Jackets feature Coach of the Year Danny Hall and are actually the highest-rated ACC team in the Top 25 at No. 6.
None of the local teams will have to worry about top seed Louisville until the weekend single-elimination round begins. The Cardinals won the Atlantic for the fourth time in five years with a 21-9 record and are ranked No. 8 nationally. Pitcher of the Year Reid Detmers struck out 138 batters in 89⅓ innings while holding foes to a .170 average.
The Cardinals are joined in Pool A by eighth-seeded Clemson and 12th seed Boston College. The Tigers finished 15-15 in the conference this year, their worst record since 2008. The Eagles were six games below .500 in conference play and just three-games over break-even in all games.