Photo: Michael Busch top and below
DURHAM, N.C. – The Atlantic Coast Conference likes to capitalize on its basketball and basketball tournaments as a time highlight national prominence in the sports. It’s also a subtle method to overlook football’s second-class stature.
Throughout the 2019 ACC Baseball Tournament that finished with North Carolina (42-17) winning 10-2 over Georgia Tech (42-17) on Sunday afternoon at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the ACC included football with bountiful media notes and flashing messages on the stadium screens for fans.
They could because in addition to recent national titles in basketball (Duke, 2015; North Carolina, 2017; and Virginia, 2019), women’s basketball (Notre Dame, 2018) and baseball (Virginia, 2015), the ACC has claimed three national football crowns in the last six seasons. Clemson won in 2018 and 2016 and Florida State in 2013.
Although it’s true Clemson is considered the ACC football’s only legitimate national title contender until Miami and Florida State regain their lost stature or another school follows Clemson’s example, ACC baseball doesn’t need any digging for numbers to state its place on the national stage.
“Our conference is tough top to bottom,” said Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall, whose team won the ACC Coastal title and was seeded second to No. 1 Louisville. “We talk about it all season; everybody is capable of beating everybody. You’ve got to play good every time out in our conference. Our conference is deep and has a lot of great players and coaches.”
Four ACC schools entered the week-long tournament ranked in the Baseball American Top 25: No. 8 Georgia Tech, No. 10 Louisville, No. 13 N.C. State and No. 14 Miami. But – as North Carolina’s title exemplified – the conference is much deeper than four Top 25 ranked teams.
Baseball America projected eight ACC schools to receive NCAA bids when the field is announced on Monday for the 64-team bracket. It picked three of the eight as Regional hosts, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and N.C. State. The other five bid predictions are Florida State, Miami, Clemson, Louisville and Duke.
Later Sunday night, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Louisville were the three ACC teams named among the 16 regional seeds. The rest of the 64-team field will be named Monday and the eight top seeds guaranteed to host a Super Regional if they win their regional will be named on Tuesday.
North Carolina enters the NCAA Tournament as the ACC Tournament champion despite a third-place finish in the ACC Coastal regular-season standings.
The Tar Heels overcame a 1-0 deficit with one run in the fifth inning to tie it before Michael Busch, the tournament MVP, sparked a four-run sixth-inning rally. The junior left-handed hitting first baseman beat a shift from Georgia Tech with a bunt single to third base.
“First and foremost, they had a lefty (freshman Luke Bartnicki) throwing 92 and 94 (mph), which is tough in baseball,” Busch said. “And then I was the leadoff guy with bats behind me that were super hot. It was a 1-1 game and I was just trying to get on base to get the lead.”
Hall, who said he considered taking off the shift after Busch showed bunt on an earlier at bat, said the power-hitter “put down a perfect bunt.”
One batter later freshman designated-hitter Aaron Sabato connected for a two-run home run to right-center field. The Tar Heels added another single-homer combination for a 5-1 lead before the inning was out. Junior shortstop Ike Freeman’s singled and junior second baseman Ashton McGee reached the right-center seats.
Busch, a first-team All-ACC pick for the regular season, later added his 15th home run of the year, a solo shot for a 6-1 lead in the seventh. He finished the game before a largely powder-blue clad crowd of 5,627 fans 2-of-4 with three runs scored and one RBI.
Sabato’s home run was his 14th and McGee's his fifth.
Joining Busch on the ACC All-Tournament team were third baseman Ike Freeman and shortstop Danny Serretti.
“We’re excited to be 2019 ACC baseball champions,” said veteran North Carolina coach Mike Fox. “We beat four really good teams to get to this point. I’m unbelievably proud of my team. It’s hard to win win a championship in this league in any sport, certainly in baseball.”
* * *
I invite you to follow me on Twitter @shanny4055
Tom Shanahan, Author: Raye of Light http://tinyurl.com/knsqtqu
-- Book on Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty's untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.
David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer; "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in."