For a first ACC title since 2006, Clemson baseball will certainly have to earn it.
The Tigers enter an ACC Baseball Championship that features four in Baseball America’s top-10 and six in the top-22 – with the entire eight-team field in the top-22 nationally of the RPI.
In their round-robin pool, Clemson (39-17, 18-12 ACC) squares off in primetime with both No. 5 N.C. State (42-13, 19-10), at 7 p.m. Wednesday, and No. 2 North Carolina (47-8, 21-7), at 7 p.m. on Friday, in their backyard of Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, N.C.
Miami (35-21, 14-16), who Clemson plays at 3 p.m. on Saturday, completes the four-team division that features seven of the ACC's top-10 pitchers by ERA and the nation’s leader in strikeouts (N.C. State lefty Carlos Rodon, 137).
The Tigers have two of the aces, in sophomore right-hander Daniel Gossett (9-3, 2.20) and freshman lefty Matthew Crownover (7-2, 2.05), while UNC makes up three in reliever Trent Thornton (8-1, 1.48) and lefty starters Hobbs Johnson (4-0, 2.18) and Kent Emanuel (9-3, 2.28).
All on the road, Clemson went 4-5 against the pool play competition this season.
At N.C. State, the Tigers seized the first two games and the series win on the strength of catcher Garrett Boulware’s bat, who powered his first two homers of the season with five RBIs and four runs scored. The Wolfpack swept Duke last weekend, but dropping 2-of-3 to the Seminoles the previous week hurt their division title hopes.
At North Carolina, the Tar Heels outscored the Tigers 16-5 in wins the first two games, but Clemson senior reliever Scott Firth held a then No. 1 UNC scoreless for 4 2/3 frames of a 5-4 win in 11 innings. Since starting 44-4, top-seed North Carolina has lost 4-of-7 and its last two ACC series.
At Miami, Clemson allowed only nine runs, but scored just two dropping 2-of-3 in the series, where they hit .057 with runners on base. The Hurricanes essentially clinched an NCAA bid by taking 2-of-3 from Georgia Tech over the weekend.
In the other pool, No. 9 Florida State (44-11, 20-10) is the two-seed taking on No. 7 Virginia (45-9, 22-8), No. 22 Virginia Tech (35-19, 15-14) and Georgia Tech (33-23, 15-15).
The winner of each pool will meet in a 1 p.m. Sunday championship game. All of the round-robin action will be televised on RSN, with the championship game on ESPN2.
The Tigers haven’t won a title or even made the final in this format, with the 2006 championship coming in the former double-elimination tournament.
They are 8-10 in round-robin play overall and went 1-2 last season at NewBridge Bank Park in Greensboro, N.C. They are, however, 3-3 in the last two installments at Durham Bulls Athletic Park and 4-3 in games in the Tar Heel State this season.