UNC catcher Jacob Stallings and the Tar Heels bring a 13-game winning streak into the ACC tournament. PHOTO: News & Observer file.
GREENSBORO — Welcome to Greensboro, and to the 2012 ACC baseball tournament. Before we go on, an apology for the lack of activity here on the blog of late. After spending last week out of the office, on furlough, things will be a lot more active from here forward.
Now onto baseball. We’ve already seen one upset here in Greensboro, at least in terms of seeding. Georgia Tech, the eighth seed, prevailed in a 5-4 victory against top-seeded Florida State, which has been ranked No. 1 nationally – in various polls – for much of the season.
What does this mean for North Carolina? That, possibly, the Tar Heels’ path to the ACC championship became a bit easier. The Seminoles now need to win their two remaining pool games, and hope for help (a Georgia Tech loss), in order to reach the championship game on Sunday.
The Heels enter the tournament with the most momentum of any of the eight teams here at NewBridge Bank Park. UNC hasn’t lost since April 24, and since then has won 13 consecutive games. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Heels are 12-0 since Colin Moran, the all-conference third baseman, returned earlier this month from a broken hand.
The question, of course, is whether UNC can keep it up. The Tar Heels open pool play tonight at 7 against Wake Forest, and then face Miami on Thursday at 3 p.m. UNC closes pool play on Saturday night at 7 against N.C. State in a game that could decide which team advances to the tournament championship game on Sunday.
Here’s a look at how UNC has fared this season against the teams that stand between the Heels and the championship game:
Vs. Wake Forest: 2-1
Vs. Miami: 0-3
Vs. N.C. State: 2-1
So, overall, UNC went 4-5 against the three teams it will play between today and Saturday.
Of course, the Heels played all but one of those nine games without Moran, who broke his hand in a moment of frustration after UNC’s loss against the Wolfpack on March 24. And with Moran back, the Heels have been a different team – offensively, of course, but especially defensively.
Moran’s return allowed UNC coach Mike Fox to tinker with his infield defensive alignment, and the results have been positive. With Moran back at third base, Fox freshman Michael Russell, who had played some at third in Moran’s absence, moved to shortstop. And Tommy Coyle, who had been at short, moved to second base.
As a result, the Tar Heels have been a much-improved defensive team. And that, in turn, has made the Heels’ dominant pitching staff all the more so. The Tar Heels didn’t enter the ACC tournament as the favorite but, after Florida State’s defeat earlier today, UNC has now assumed that role.