ACC teams fight off elimination, rain delays and disappointment

Virginia head coach Brian O'Connor has the Cavaliers back to their fifth Super Regional in the last six years. 

If the ACC is going to end its nearly 60-year drought of NCAA baseball titles, it’s going to need to continue to be as resilient as some of its teams have already shown themselves to be in the regional rounds.

Maryland might be the biggest surprise of them all, knocking off South Carolina in Columbia by a 10-1 score on Sunday night — their second win over the No. 1 seed in that Region.

The Terps — a two-seed in the Columbia Regional — didn’t get off to the best start imaginable. On Friday, Maryland beat Old Dominion after ODU’s pitcher hit consecutive Maryland batters to bring in the game-tying and game-winning runs in the ninth inning. After that odd victory, the No. 2-seeded Terps beat South Carolina 4-3, handing snapping the Gamecocks’ 28-game winning streak at home in the NCAA Tournament.

The Terps then got to rest up all day Saturday for a 7:00 game against the winner of South Carolina-Campbell (which was South Carolina, by a 9-0 score). And they dominated virtually from start to finish. Maryland reached the ACC title game and certainly showed it’s capable of beating good teams — this weekend just solidified it.

Georgia Tech — the team that won the ACC Tournament, and the No. 3 3-seed in Ole Miss’ regional — lost its first game to two-seed Washington 8-0 before beating Jacksonville State early Sunday morning, only to fall 4-2 late Sunday night to Washington in an elimination game.

Miami, seemingly, had everything set up perfectly. The Hurricanes were snubbed for a national seed, but it was looking like they’d be able to host in the Super Regional round after all Florida going out early.

But the Hurricanes squeaked by fourth-seed Bethune-Cookman on Friday before falling to two-seed Texas Tech on Saturday. Miami was one of the hottest teams in the country entering the NCAA Tournament and scored a total of one run in three games through the first 25 innings of regional play (they trailed 1-0 in the eighth against Texas Tech and will resume play on Monday after several rain delays).

Clemson snuck into the NCAA Tournament and wasn’t necessarily expected to make it out of the regional round anyway. But the Tigers lost Game 1 of the Nashville Regional in pretty embarrassing fashion (18-1 to Oregon, the No. 2 seed) and then fell in Game 2 to the No. 4 seed, Xavier, by a 6-4 score.

The somewhat disappointing season for Clemson has led to questions about the future of its head coach, Jack Leggett, who’s headed the program since 1994. He’s led Clemson to 20 NCAA Tournament appearances in his 21 seasons and six College World Series berths, but none of those have come in the last three seasons. The Tigers haven’t hosted a regional since 2011 and haven’t advanced past the regional round since 2010.

Aaron Bremer of the Post and Courier reported that Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich issued a statement saying that he would be speaking to Leggett "in the next few days about the path ahead for our program". Radakovich also said "we can and will look to do more".

Bremer also had a response from Leggett, who — somewhat understandably — seemed surprised to be even be fielding the question. The fact remains that the fans are getting impatient, and Radakovich’s message seems to be pretty clear. None of that looks good for Leggett’s future.

Speaking of disappointing finishes, Florida State — a national seed — went out after losing both of its games in the Tallahassee Regional. The Seminoles nearly escaped becoming the first-ever national seed to go scoreless, but they still fell 6-5 in an elimination game to Alabama and are done.

Florida State head coach Mike Martin is one of the most successful coaches in college baseball history, and he’s been the head man in Tallahassee since 1980. FSU has made the NCAA Tournament 34 straight years and had won 19 straight regional games before this weekend.

It’s a head-scratching ending for the Seminoles, who won the ACC’s Atlantic Division crown for the eighth straight season and were one of the top teams in the country. But the 43 wins, oddly enough, were the fewest of the Martin era. It was just an unfortunate ending to an otherwise good season, but there were some puzzling moments that had fans and media alike talking.

Florida State was scoreless in its first 17 innings of regional play before a five-run ninth inning that cut Alabama’s lead down from 6-0 to 6-5. But they fell just short of taking the lead, and that was largely because (or at least partly because) Martin pinch-ran for clean-up hitter John Nogowski in the bottom of the ninth, thinking he was giving the junior a curtain call in case he doesn’t come back to school.

But Nogowski led off with a single that started a ninth-inning rally, and it would have been Nogowski’s turn at bat for what turned out to be the final out of the inning.

"That’s the last time I play Mr. Nice Guy," Martin told reporters (including the Orlando Sentinel‘s Brendan Sonnone) after the game. 

The Seminoles have been patient hitters all year long, and that approach seemed to backfire for much of this past weekend as their bats went cold at the worst possible time. The pitchers weren’t much better. All in all, it was just not a great performance and the Seminoles go home early again. But they weren’t alone — in fact, FSU was one of two national seeds to go winless in the postseason since the tournament expanded in 1999. And the other was a familiar foe in Florida, who lost to College of Charleston in Game 1 before dropping an elimination game to North Carolina, 5-2.

The Gators were the No. 2 overall national seed. Prior to this year, just three national seeds had ever gone winless in the postseason.

North Carolina rallied to beat Florida on Saturday from a 6-1 loss on Friday to Long Beach State. The good news for UNC was that the Gators were out. The bad news was that they were going to have to win at least three more times to get out of the regional.

And the Gainesville Regional has been the place where baseball goes to get rain delayed. UNC and Florida had a rain delay on Saturday, and the UNC and Long Beach State had two lengthy rain delays on Sunday before the game was eventually postponed. For UNC to stay alive, it will have to erase a 5-4 deficit in the top of the seventh with one out and the Dirtbags still batting.

When the game is resumed Monday at 12:00 p.m. ET, UNC will have to come back to beat Long Beach State, and then beat College of Charleston twice (both on Monday, should UNC win the first and the weather cooperates). Very long odds, for sure.

But let’s not forget the ACC’s crown jewel, Virginia. The Cavaliers — no. 1 in the final RPI, but the No. 3 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament — was one of just three national seeds to start out 2-0 in their regional, and they made that an even 3-0 on Sunday by dispatching Arkansas by a 9-2 score. It will be the Cavaliers’ fifth Super Regional in the last six years. 

Virginia is probably the league’s best option to win the whole thing, if the regular season means anything nowadays in college baseball. The Cavaliers have advanced to the College World Series just twice in program history (2009 and 2011), but have made the NCAA Tournament 11 years in a row now under head coach Brian O’Connor. Maybe it’s their time.

But in an odd twist of fate, the ACC team that is this league’s best hope will advance to play against the team that is leaving the ACC — Maryland. The Terps will travel to Charlottesville and try to stick it to the ACC one last time by knocking off one of the league’s best threats to win the title.