Pool play has already led to the downfall of one top program in the 2015 ACC Baseball Tournament, but Saturday will decide if another favorite will miss out on the championship game.
Sixth-seeded North Carolina State secured a place in Sunday's championship tilt with a thrilling 5-4 win over No. 2 Miami on Friday. The Hurricanes were the best team in Pool B coming into the tournament—and one of the hottest in the nation with a 12-game winning streak in hand—but with no real advantage to speak of in the round-robin, pool play, they were at the mercy of a fickle format.
No. 1 Louisville is 1-1 in pool play, but the Cardinals are in control of their own destiny on Saturday. They take on the No. 4 Florida State Seminoles, who are 2-0 and on the verge of a championship berth themselves. However, the Cardinals can skip past them with a win and the head-to-head tournament tiebreaker.
North Carolina State essentially has a championship tune-up game on Saturday against Virginia, while the Miami-Notre Dame contest is mostly academic at this point.
Here's a look at the remaining tournament schedule with Saturday predictions, followed by a preview of the critical Seminoles-Cardinals matchup.
|2015 ACC Tournament Schedule, Predictions|
|Date||Time (ET)||Team 1||Team 2||Watch||Predictions|
|Saturday, May 23||11 a.m.||Louisville||Florida State||ESPN3||Louisville 4-3 Florida State|
|Saturday, May 23||3 p.m.||Notre Dame||Miami||ESPN3||Miami 3-1 Notre Dame|
|Saturday, May 23||7 p.m.||North Carolina State||Virginia||ESPN3||NC State 4-2 Virginia|
|Sunday, May 24 (Championship Game)||1 p.m.||Pool A Winner||North Carolina State||ESPN2|
Game of the Day: No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 1 Louisville
The Seminoles may have finished with the fourth seed in the ACC and a rather pedestrian 17-13 regular-season conference record, but that didn't stop them from holding a place near the top of the nationwide ranks. Ninth in the nation in RPI and 14th in the latest USA Today Coaches Poll, Florida State is the real deal, just gutting it out in a powerhouse conference.
Louisville amassed a 25-5 ACC record, is ranked 11th in RPI and took two out of three from Florida State in their big series in early May, but it's the 'Noles who have fared better thus far in tournament play.
Clemson handily defeated Louisville 7-2 on Thursday. Starting pitcher and top MLB prospect Kyle Funkhouser gave up five earned in five innings, while Tigers starter Zack Erwin struck out 11 batters in eight innings. Getting the bats working will be key for the Cards. They scattered seven hits against Clemson, and although they scratched out nine in their 7-4 win over UNC, four of them came from the bat of first baseman/pitcher Brendan McKay.
It doesn't help that the starting pitching has been lacking and the Cards dug themselves into early holes in both games, only one of which they could climb out of.
This doesn't bode well for the team as it runs into a Seminoles offense that was firing on all cylinders in an 8-4 win over UNC. Much of this game will depend on the starting pitching matchups, and both teams have options having had the day off on Friday.
Florida State roughed up Funkhouser in its 13-4 win over Louisville on May 8. The Cards' best option on the mound might actually be McKay, who pitched 6.1 shutout innings in his team's 7-0 win over FSU on May 9.
Whether it's with his arm or his bat, McKay figures to be a major factor on Saturday. The fabulous freshman was recently named a Golden Spikes award semifinalist, per Louisville baseball's Twitter account:
Dustin Tackett of the Orlando Sentinel also notes that Florida State may have more to play for than a spot in the conference championship: "FSU’s undefeated start to the tournament has already cleared up any doubts about the Seminoles hosting a regional, but a national seeding and super regional host are still within reach."
However, Louisville showed great heart in its come-from-behind win over North Carolina. Both teams are essentially locks for hosting regionals in the NCAA baseball tournament, but a shot at a conference championship would be excellent padding for the resumes of these two elite programs.