NCAA bids, hosting spots on the line as ACC Tournament returns to Durham

The Bull City has hosted the league’s championship more than any other city

Alex Stone and Duke will need to battle their way through Pool D to advance into the semifinals of the ACC Tournament. (Ben McKeown / AP Photo)

The ACC may be moving its conference headquarters to Charlotte and away from its Greensboro roots, but the league’s baseball capital remains in Durham.

The ACC Tournament returns to the Bull City for the first time since the pandemic and the 13th time in the 49-season history of the event, more than any other host city. Durham Bulls Athletic Park, where the 15 games of this year’s tourney will take place, is hosting for the 11th time, more than any other venue. Since it opened in 1996, the DBAP has hosted more than one out of every three ACC Tournaments.

There’s plenty at stake in this year’s tournament, which started with three games on Tuesday. Of the 12 teams playing for the league title, eight are projected to make the NCAA Baseball Tournament, according to the most recent D1Baseball and Baseball America mock brackets.

The tournament will feature four days of tripleheaders for pool play, with the league divided into four groupings of three teams each. Each team will play the other two members of its pool, and the four pool winners will advance to a single-elimination semifinal and final round over the weekend.

Here’s a pool-by-pool breakdown of what to expect this week.

Pool A: Looking out for No. 1

Wake Forest won the ACC regular season championship in dominant fashion as the Demon Deacons enter the postseason as the No. 1 team in the nation. Wake won all of its ACC series this season, the first team to accomplish that since UNC in 2017, and the Deacs are holding out hope that they will bring the school’s second College World Series title back to Winston-Salem.

Wake is led by pitcher Rhett Lowder, who won the ACC Pitcher of the Year award for the second season in a row. The junior from Albemarle is the first to win the award in back-to-back years since 2011 and is the only hurler in the country with an undefeated record in at least 12 decisions.

The Deacs also have the ACC Coach of the Year in Tom Walter, the first Wake coach to take the award since 2002.

Wake is joined in Pool A by two teams that didn’t have a winning ACC record this season. No. 8 seed Notre Dame was 15-15, 30-22 overall, and No. 12 Pitt was 10-18, 23-30 overall. The Irish are coming off of a College World Series appearance and are playing to hold onto a potential NCAA bid. Notre Dame enters the tournament as one of the last four in, according to Baseball America.

Pool B: Coastal champs and the player of the year

Virginia finished the season on a nine-game winning streak to win the Coastal Division by a game and earn the top seed in Pool B.

The Cavs feature the ACC Player of the Year in catcher Kyle Teel along with three other first-teamers. Only Wake had more than UVA’s seven players chosen for one of the three All-Conference teams.

Virginia is expected to host in the NCAA first round and will be playing to hold onto that advantage.

Virginia is joined in the pool by No. 7 seed UNC, which was swept by Clemson in the final series of the regular season. A four-game losing streak to close out the schedule dropped the Heels to 14-14 in the conference. UNC center fielder Vance Honeycutt was named the league’s top defensive player. The final team in the pool is Georgia Tech, which finds itself on the NCAA bubble after a 12-18 ACC season. The Jackets are the second team out in D1Baseball’s bracket and the eighth team out in Baseball America’s.

Pool C: Home to the hottest team and the toughest matchup

Clemson enters on a league-high 12-game winning streak, which earned the Tigers the No. 3 overall seed. Clemson is led by ACC Freshman of the Year Cam Cannarella, who led the league in steals. The Tigers will be tested by sixth-seeded Boston College, which finished with a winning conference record, one of just six ACC teams to do so.

The final team in the pool is No. 10 Virginia Tech, which enters with a 12-17 league mark.

BC is fighting to host as the Eagles play in just their third ACC Tournament ever. D1Baseball just dropped the Eagles from a hosting spot, while Baseball America still projects them as one.

Pool D: The group of death

The final pool should have plenty of fireworks with three closely grouped teams. No. 4 Miami finished 18-12 in the ACC, 1½ games ahead of No. 5 Duke. NC State swept its final series of the season to earn the No. 9 seed and a pool date with a Triangle rival.

Duke is on the bubble to host, with D1Baseball projecting the Devils with a spot but Baseball America has them travel for the first weekend. NC State is on the tourney bubble and is the second team out, according to Baseball America.

The winner of the tournament will earn an automatic bid to the NCAAs, an honor that has been held by a team from the tournament’s home state since 2019. UNC (2) and Duke (1) have shared the last three crowns, the longest streak by teams from the Old North State since 1982-1984.