Thursday's three games in the 2014 ACC baseball tournament saw the playing field become more even with two of the top three seeds falling in the round-robin pool.
Just one day after pulling off a shocking upset over top-seeded Miami (Florida), the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets came crashing back to earth, getting shut out 6-0 by Duke. The Blue Devils managed to bounce back from their loss to Clemson in the opener, getting a sensational, five-hit shutout from starting pitcher Drew Van Orden:
The Hurricanes fell yet again, losing in a dramatic showdown with Clemson 3-2, as Steve Wilkerson hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth:
A magnificent long ball display saw Maryland win its opener against No. 3 seed Virginia by a score of 7-6. LaMonte Wade socked two solo homers for the victorious Terrapins, who held off a late rally by the resilient Cavaliers, as the favorites plated two runs in the ninth but failed to rally enough to tie things up.
Maryland starter Jake Stinnett, who struck out 10 Virginia batters in eight innings to get the win, discussed how the Terrapins' powerful lineup helped him along, per Maryland Athletics, via NCAA.com:
We knew going into the game they have a [good] offensive lineup and against teams like that you really have to minimize. I felt like every time we scored a run my goal was to go out there and put up a zero and they would fight back and get a run, but it wasn’t more than one so we kept our heads high and the offense continued to pick me up over and over again. At the end of the day, we came out on top.
ACC Baseball tweeted a breakdown of the updated bracket:
As the tournament gets deeper, the top seeds still in contention should begin to assert their respective wills, but there have been a fair share of surprises thus far. Only Florida State came out of the gates with a strong win over North Carolina, while Virginia stumbled and Miami collapsed to 0-2.
Here is a look at the results from Day 3, along with predictions for what Friday's action will hold in what's been an exceptional conference tourney thus far.
|6||Maryland vs. Virginia||Maryland, 7-6|
|7||Duke vs. Georgia Tech||Duke, 6-0|
|8||Miami vs. Clemson||Clemson, 3-2|
Day 4 Predictions
No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 6 Maryland, 11 a.m. ET (Watch ESPN)
It took a gritty effort from Maryland's Stinnett just to stay strong versus Virginia, and the Terrapins had to swat four home runs just to beat the Cavaliers. That type of extraordinary effort will be difficult to conjure up for the second day in a row facing the Seminoles.
Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post does point out how Maryland has managed to win no matter who the opponent has been of late:
Terps baseball has now won 10 straight, hasn't lost in May. Faces Florida State tomorrow at 11 a.m.— Alex Prewitt (@alex_prewitt) May 22, 2014
Momentum in baseball can fluctuate so fast, though, and there will be even more intense pressure on the Terrapins to keep their winning ways going against an elite adversary that ranks fourth in Baseball America's poll.
Billy Strode pitched six shutout innings in Florida State's dominant win over the Tar Heels, and the Seminoles have sophomore Mike Compton as the probable taking the hill on Friday. That will only add to the issues Maryland figures to have in keeping up with a strong FSU lineup.
Seminoles coach Mike Martin alluded to how Compton doesn't make many mistakes where opposing hitters can take him deep, per the Tallahassee Democrat's Corey Clark:
Michael has got a lot of ground balls in him and he’s not afraid to throw some ground balls. I think that has a lot to do with it. He’s not trying to strike everybody out. He’s letting the defense help him out. And when he’s cookin’ to both sides of the plate, you’re going to get some ground balls.
Compton also had a complete-game shutout back in March when the Seminoles defeated the Terrapins, so he's proven capable of shutting them down before.
As long as Compton is on and Florida State maintains its excellence at the plate that has it batting .280 on the season (h/t NCAA.com), this should be yet another victory for the Seminoles.
Prediction: Florida State 5, Maryland 3
No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 9 Georgia Tech, 3 p.m. ET (Watch ESPN)
Able to come through even against a desperate Miami team, the Tigers should use the momentous win to catapult themselves into the conference title game. The demoralized Yellow Jackets got blanked after toppling the Hurricanes, so they figure to be in low spirits.
Plus, as the Tigers' official Twitter account noted after Thursday's epic victory, coach Jack Leggett continued his ascent up the managerial hierarchy in the NCAA record books:
That should give the favorites a tactical advantage in this contest. Clemson is now 2-0 in pool play and has displayed too much promise to suffer a letdown against a clearly inferior foe. However, that doesn't mean Georgia Tech will go quietly, as it looks to prove the win over Miami wasn't a fluke.
There is the potential for the Tigers to get caught looking ahead, but there is so much at stake for them not to keep charging ahead, as Greg Wallace of CUTigers.com alluded to afterward:
Wow. Clemson beats Miami 3-2. Have to think that locks up an NCAA bid for Tigers - plus in drivers' seat for ACCT title.— Greg Wallace (@gc_wallace) May 23, 2014
Unless Georgia Tech has a revelation at the plate and manages to get off to a fast start, this should be a rather easy win for Clemson.
Prediction: Clemson 8, Georgia Tech 2
No. 3 Virginia vs. No. 7 North Carolina, 7 p.m. ET (Watch ESPN)
It would be shocking to see another top-three seed fall to 0-2, so it stands to reason that the Cavaliers won't let that happen. It took a Herculean effort from Maryland to the tune of four home runs to knock off Virginia, and even then the Cavaliers lost by just a run.
Which team in action on Friday is likeliest to win the ACC title?
The Tar Heels were rocked by Florida State 7-1 in their first game, and competing at an even higher level against a team that's been slightly better on the season would be surprising.
Of course, the ACC tournament hasn't been short on stunning developments through the first two days of pool play.
Should Virginia shock the college baseball world again and lose, it would be more attributable to the volatile day-to-day results the sport tends to foster than anything else. The Cavaliers falling would also prove how deep the ACC is and would aid the other teams' efforts to recruit top-tier talent to the conference. It would certainly put a damper on Virginia's outlook ahead of the College World Series, too.
They may be the third seed in the tournament, but the Cavaliers are also ranked third in the nation, per Baseball America's poll. As hinted in the introduction, they should begin asserting themselves and gather a morale boost. Virginia almost has to in order to maintain a positive frame of mind before the competition gets really difficult.
Prediction: Virginia 7, North Carolina 3