The second day of the 2014 ACC baseball tournament promised excitement, with two of the nation's elite teams in Miami (Florida) and Florida State in action. To begin Wednesday's action, though, the Clemson Tigers made a name for themselves in defeating Duke 5-3 in their first game of the conference tourney.
That win gives Clemson a leg up in Pool A, which features the Hurricanes, who suffered a stinging 6-3 upset at the hands of Georgia Tech. Getting an early edge was key for Clemson, and the Blue Devils entered with a very similar record, making it anyone's game. Now that victory is even bigger in light of Miami's loss.
None of the tournament's first four contests had been won by more than three runs, so if that's a sign of what will come, just about anything can happen as these ballplayers pursue the ACC crown.
Read on for updates on what happened Wednesday, along with analysis and an overview of what's to come on Day 3.
|3||Duke vs. Clemson||Clemson, 5-3|
|4||Miami (Florida) vs. Georgia Tech||Georgia Tech, 6-3|
|5||Florida State vs. North Carolina||Florida State, 7-1|
Day 2 Recap
Florida State 7, North Carolina 1
In the winter of 2014, Jameis Winston brought Florida State its first football national championship in more than a decade. In the spring, he played a part in bringing the Seminoles their first ACC tournament victory in a very long time—albeit in a far different role.
Winston pitched the ninth to close out Billy Strode's six-inning gem, as Florida State scored a dominant 7-1 victory over North Carolina on Wednesday. It was the Seminoles first tournament win since 2011—a streak that spanned seven games.
Strode was the star of the show, spraying four hits over six scoreless innings and striking out five Tar Heels. Gage Smith pitched the seventh and eighth, giving up one run before ceding the final three outs to Winston.
“I just can't tell you what Billy did for our baseball team tonight,” Florida State coach Mike Martin said, per the ACC's official website. “He's a great competitor. He gave us a tremendous lift."
The Seminoles also got myriad timely hits from their bats. Danny De La Calle and Justin Gonzalez each drove in two runs from the bottom of the order, and Florida State turned just nine hits into seven runs. De La Calle and Gonzalez were unlikely heroes on a day where No. 3 hitter DJ Stewart went without a hit.
Cleanup hitter John Nogowski did, however, hit his fifth home run in the seventh inning to cap off the Seminoles' scoring.
North Carolina starter Taylore Cherry allowed six earned runs in 5.1 innings, including a critical four-run fourth. The Tar Heels came into Wednesday having won five straight games—a bizarre twist on a night that Florida State finally pushed itself over the edge.
Georgia Tech 6, Miami (Florida) 3
The Yellow Jackets needed to win over Wake Forest just to get into Pool A. Now they are suddenly in the mix for a conference championship after topping the No. 1 seed Miami 6-3 on Wednesday.
It appeared as though the Hurricanes would cruise after seizing a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the fifth, courtesy of RBI singles from captain outfielder Ryan Palmer and catcher Zack Collins, the ACC Freshman of the Year. However, Georgia Tech showed outstanding resilience in plugging its way back into the game, tallying 14 hits and two runs apiece in the seventh and eighth innings to storm ahead for good.
Brandon Gold socked a two-run single that proved to be the difference, breaking a 3-3 tie in the eighth.
Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun Sentinel adequately described how many Hurricanes fans had to have felt in the aftermath:
But Miami's official Twitter account brought up a pertinent point about the team's tournament history should have the Hurricanes feeling a bit better:
Just a reminder: during last trip to Greensboro in 2012, #Canes lost Game One and made Sunday's Championship Game - see you tomorrow!— Hurricanes Baseball (@CanesBaseball) May 21, 2014
Josh Heddinger did a great job for the underdogs, getting the start and managing to cool down Miami's high-octane offense that had gotten the Hurricanes to this point. Here are the numbers of his outing, per Georgia Tech:
Since Duke was dropped earlier in the day, it may have trouble recovering with the knowledge that Miami has one loss. That will make Thursday's game between the Yellow Jackets and the Blue Devils all the more interesting. Georgia Tech has a legitimate shot to go 2-0 and move that much closer to a shot in the conference championship game.
Meanwhile, this has to be crushing for Miami after entering as favorites even against at least two strong contenders. Clemson will be brimming with confidence, now that it's been proven the Hurricanes can be had. The Tigers will certainly give their top-ranked adversaries all they can handle Thursday in a bid to go 2-0 as the fourth seed.
Clemson 5, Duke 3
On the strength of perseverance from a tough start and five unanswered runs thereafter, Clemson was able to knock off the Blue Devils 5-3 to get their ACC tournament moving in the right direction.
The fifth-seeded Tigers may have gotten the win over No. 4 Duke, but it wasn't easy. An early 2-0 deficit had coach Jack Leggett's club looking sluggish in the beginning. Laura Keeley of the Raleigh News & Observer was critical of how Clemson was playing:
Clemson, not playing winning baseball. Dropped pop foul ends up a single for Marconcini. Then a two-out HR for Deitrich. 2-0 #Duke— Laura Keeley (@laurakeeley) May 21, 2014
Infielder Tyler Krieger provided the critical hit at the perfect time to vanquish Duke's momentum, ripping a double down the line to plate two runs and put the Tigers on top 3-2. ACC Baseball had video of the highlight that proved to be the difference:
They added two runs in the top of the ninth to increase their cushion on Duke, as the Blue Devils tacked on one in the bottom half of the last inning but couldn't mount a strong enough rally.
After the game, Leggett praised his victorious side for fighting through what was a compelling showdown for nine innings, per ClemsonTigers.com:
It was a competitive game from start to finish. I thought the offense did a really good job in the fourth and fifth innings when we grabbed one run and then two. Tyler Krieger had a big two-out hit down the right-field line. Then we had a big hit at the end by Steven Duggar that gave us two insurance runs.
Although there was some timely hitting on Clemson's part, there is still plenty of room for improvement that the Tigers must capitalize on if they're meant to have a shot at the ACC title. Clemson left 10 runners on base Wednesday, often being bailed out by the stellar starting pitching of Matthew Crownover. The sophomore had nine strikeouts and yielded just five hits and two runs in 7.2 innings.
To compete with the other prominent teams in this tournament, hot bats will be required, particularly against top-seeded Miami (Florida) in Thursday's game. But it's also vital for the Tigers to be more proficient when they have runners aboard.
Duke can be encouraged by its advantage, yet its lineup was dominated by Crownover, save for the two-run shot right fielder Ryan Dietrich swatted in the second inning. He accounted for all three Blue Devils RBI.
More balanced production is necessary as Duke gears up for Georgia Tech. Since the Yellow Jackets had to play their way into the pool, the Blue Devils will be disappointed if they can't get the job done and win on Thursday.
Since the teams are still battling it out in pool play round-robin style, there won't be any definitive movement in the bracket until that phase of the ACC tournament concludes on Saturday. Just as a reminder, here are what both pools look like:
|A||Miami, Duke, Clemson, Georgia Tech|
|B||Florida State, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina|
For the complete bracket, visit RaycomSports.com.
Day 3 Schedule
|6||11 a.m.||Maryland vs. Virginia||ESPN3|
|7||3 p.m.||Duke vs. Georgia Tech||ESPN3|
|8||7 p.m.||Miami vs. Clemson||ESPN3|