This week begins with a new team at the top of the national rankings in most polls, including the College Baseball Top 50, where ACC representative Wake Forest takes over the top spot. Duke checks in at number four and is in the conversation to be a regional host and possibly a national seed.
The ACC has several teams who seem to be automatic choices to make the tournament when names are called on May 29. Among those teams is Boston College, Virginia, and Miami. It is worth looking at what teams on the bubble in the ACC did this past weekend to boost or hurt their tournament credentials going into the final two weeks of action before the ACC Tournament in Durham.
Clemson dashes Louisville’s hopes
Louisville, who had perhaps the most to gain from a good to great weekend, traveled to South Carolina to face Clemson and had a disastrous weekend. The Cardinals were swept by the Tigers and their offense produced exactly three runs in each of the three losses.
Ethan Darden tossed six innings in the Friday opener and allowed three runs over six innings. Ryan Hawks pitched a nice game for Louisville, but the Tigers got to the Cardinals bullpen with the game tied at three. A bases loaded walk for Clemson was followed by a hit by pitch to account for the go ahead runs in the seventh inning. The Tigers bullpen was great and held on to the three run lead to take the game 6-3.
In Saturday’s middle game, Louisville got another nice start, this time from Carson Liggett who allowed just one run in four innings. But Clemson starter Austin Gordon was even better. Gordon allowed the Cardinals one hit and nothing more. Tied at one going to the bottom of the seventh inning, the Tigers scored three times thanks to two bases loaded walks and a sacrifice fly. The 4-3 win gave Clemson the series win and meant that Louisville needed to salvage a game by winning on Sunday.
It was not to be.
Louisville used eight pitchers in a 7-3 defeat on Sunday. Caden Grice was great for Clemson, going 6 ⅓ and allowing just two earned runs to the Cardinals. The Tigers got output in the middle-innings from Cooper Ingle and a home run from Billy Amick to take the lead. The 7-3 final score closed out the sweep, the worst possible result for Louisville, but a real boost for the surging Tigers.
NC State earns much needed series win
Elsewhere in the ACC, Notre Dame played host to NC State.
Notre Dame took the Thursday opener with a 9-7 final score. Neither starting pitcher was particularly effective and neither pitched more than five innings. The Fighting Irish got a solid relief appearance from Radek Birkholz who pitched 3 1/3 innings and allowed just one run on one hit. Birkholz got the win for his effort as he was the pitcher of record when Notre Dame catcher Vinny Martinez hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning in a 3-for-5 performance.
The Wolfpack bounced back in a big way over the next two games to take 5-1 and 6-1 victories in South Bend. LuJames Grover III was the offensive star Friday night going 2-for-4 with three RBI on a double, a home run, and a bases loaded walk. Matt Willadsen (5-3) handled things on the mound for NC State, throwing 6 2/3 innings and striking out nine while allowing just one run.
In Saturday's finale, Notre Dame took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when the second hitter of the frame, Zack Prajzner, launched a solo home run. It was the only run the Irish would score in the game.
NC State punched right back with a three-run second inning, sparked by a Kalae Harrison two-run home run batting in the nine spot. Sam Highfill looked like the 2021 version of himself for the Wolfpack, going five strong innings despite the solo home run, and improving to 5-1 this season.
What it all means
After this weekend, Louisville is 9-15 in the ACC with Virginia and Florida State on the schedule for the final two weeks. NC State is currently at 10-13 in the ACC and they face North Carolina and Pitt down the stretch. It has been seven years since a team below .500 in the ACC has made the tournament.
One of the teams on the bubble, North Carolina, did not play this weekend and will be in action over the next two weeks against NC State and Clemson. Winning both of these series seems necessary to boost the Tar Heels chances of playing in June, sweeping either or both would go even further to enhancing their resume.
Can Louisville win six games and make the NCAA tournament with a .500 record? With Virginia next on the docket, it seems like a tall order, but with Florida State on the final weekend, it is possible.
Can NC State win three or four games and bounce state rival North Carolina out of the postseason picture altogether at the same time? If the Wolfpack wins the series with the Tar Heels on the road, they can put the final stamp on their resume with a series win at home against Pitt.
Virginia Tech is the final wild card in the ACC. At 11-12 in conference play, the Hokies face No. 24 Clemson next weekend and close out their regular season at Wake Forest. The Hokies can play their way into the NCAA tournament with a dominant final two weeks, but that is a tall order against the top team in the country to close things out.