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ACC Stock Watch

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Miami righthander Evan McKendry (Photo by Cliff Welch)

In many respects, 2019 was business as usual in the ACC. Louisville again topped the standings, its third title in five seasons in the conference, and the Cardinals and Florida State reached the College World Series, both making their fourth Omaha appearances of the decade. The return of Georgia Tech and Miami to the NCAA Tournament after two-year absences was a boost for the conference, as was Duke’s second straight trip to super regionals. North Carolina and North Carolina State were again strong, competing for the chance to host regionals right down to Selection Monday.

The downside to business as usual for the ACC was that for the third straight year it ranked third in conference RPI behind the SEC and Big 12 and for the fourth straight year it didn’t have a team play for the national title.

The good news for the conference as it seeks to end those streaks is that the underclassmen in the league were its best group. Both its player of the year (Bobby Seymour, Wake Forest) and pitcher of the year (Reid Detmers, Louisville) were sophomores, and six of the 16 players on the Freshman All-America first-team played in the ACC. Those successes mean the ACC is well positioned heading into 2020 and beyond.

Presented here are team-by-team analysis for every team in the ACC, as well as the trajectory of the program this season.

Boston College (31-27, 12-18), no postseason ⬆️

With a May surge, the Eagles ended up much closer to an NCAA Tournament berth than would have been expected when they entered the month under .500 overall. A pair of series wins to end the regular season pushed Boston College into the last spot in the ACC Tournament, and then the Eagles upset Clemson and Louisville to advance to the semifinals. The run ended there with a loss to North Carolina and while BC had pushed to the bubble with an RPI in the 50s, it wasn’t enough to get into regionals.

The Eagles had some good young talent and their late-season push was indicative of the strides they made throughout the spring. With infielders Sal Frelick, who was leading the team in hitting when a torn meniscus ended his season in early May, and Cody Morissette, a Freshman All-American, and righthander Mason Pelio, who this summer was invited to training camp for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, returning next year as sophomores, there is reason to believe the Eagles will be able to carry their late-season momentum into 2020.

Clemson (35-26, 15-15), reached regionals ⬇️

After hosting regionals in each of the first three seasons under coach Monte Lee, Clemson took a step back this season. The Tigers played well in the first half, balancing series losses to archrival South Carolina and Notre Dame with big series wins against North Carolina and Louisville. But immediately after winning the series against the Cardinals, things went south for the Tigers.  They went through an eight-game losing streak and needed a series win on the final weekend of the regular season against Wake Forest to ensure their spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Clemson struggled to replace some key contributors from previous seasons like Seth Beer, Jake Higginbotham and Chris Williams, while at the same time seeing some upperclassmen take a step back. It made for a tough combination down the stretch and dropped the Tigers from the ranks of ACC contenders to the middle of the pack.

Duke (35-27, 15-15), reached super regionals ⬆️

This season did not at all go the way Duke drew it up, but they found a way back to super regionals anyway. The Blue Devils expected to have one of the best 1-2 punches in the country at the front of their rotation with lefthanders Graeme Stinson and Adam Laskey, but both were significantly limited by injuries. Duke went 4-8 down the stretch in May but got in the NCAA Tournament, swept through the Morgantown Regional—beating West Virginia and Texas A&M along the way—and then routed eventual national champion Vanderbilt, 18-5, in Game 1 of the Nashville Super Regional before running out of steam and losing the next two games.

It was a bit of a strange way to get there, but Duke ended up in a super regional for the second straight year. It has been the program's best two-season stretch in more than 60 years, and this year proved Duke doesn’t need everything to line up perfectly to be successful. The program’s growth under coach Chris Pollard has been hugely impressive.

Florida State (42-23, 17-13), reached College World Series ⬅️➡️

Mike Martin’s 40th and final season as Florida State’s coach was a strange one. The Seminoles won their first 12 games and Martin on March 9 won the 2,000th game of his storied career. But Florida State hit a month-long skid following that win and spent the rest of the season on the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Seminoles ultimately got in the tournament and, once there, caught fire. They swept through the Athens Regional and Baton Rouge Super Regional, knocking off SEC powers Georgia and Louisiana State along the way, to ensure Martin’s career ended in Omaha.

This was a young Seminoles team and it showed. They still finished in the top half of the ACC and showed their potential at the end of the season, playing like one of the best teams in the country to navigate a difficult path to the College World Series. Florida State will have a different look next season as Mike Martin Jr. takes over the program from his father, but this season provided a memorable final ride for 11.

Georgia Tech (43-19, 19-11), reached regionals ⬆️

After missing regionals the last two seasons, Georgia Tech rebounded in a big way in 2019. The Yellow Jackets won the Coastal Division, won the season series against Georgia and received the No. 3 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. They were upset in the Atlanta Regional by Auburn, stunned by a walk-off home run in the winners’ bracket game and then unable to fight their way back.

Overall, it was a strong season from the Yellow Jackets as they reestablished themselves in the national conversation. While they haven’t won a regional since 2006, this was still their best season since the start of the decade. Georgia Tech needed to get back on track after a few tough seasons, and it confidently did that in 2019.

Louisville (51-18, 21-9), reached College World Series ⬆️

The Cardinals produced another outstanding season and proved themselves again to be the class of the ACC. They won 50 games for the third time in four years, won the ACC for the third time in five years and advanced to the College World Series for the second time in three years. Louisville advanced to the bracket final in Omaha for the first time in program history, and its two losses in the CWS were to eventual national champion Vanderbilt.

The Cardinals have been a machine under coach Dan McDonnell, and they just kept on rolling this spring. They weren’t necessarily the flashiest team, but they took care of business every step of the way and again ended their season in Omaha.

Miami (41-20, 18-12), reached regionals ⬆️

In Gino DiMare’s first season as head coach after taking over the program from Jim Morris, who retired last year, Miami returned to regionals after a two-year absence. Even better, the Hurricanes finished just a game behind Georgia Tech in the Coastal Division standings and were in the mix to host a regional. Ultimately, they faced a tough postseason draw, having to go to Starkville, where they lost to host Mississippi State in the regional final.

Miami’s not going to be satisfied with merely returning to regionals, but it was an important step for the program this season. The Hurricanes have a young, talented core returning next year and are well-positioned for a return to national prominence, especially after the experience they gained this spring.

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North Carolina (46-19, 17-13), reached super regionals ⬅️➡️

The Tar Heels came into the season with lofty expectations after returning the bulk of the team from their College World Series appearance in 2018. It wasn’t smooth sailing for North Carolina throughout the season, and after losing back-to-back series at Pittsburgh and against North Carolina State to end the regular season, it looked like the Tar Heels would be on the road for regionals. But then they swept through the ACC Tournament and were rewarded with a home regional, which they also swept through.

The season ended on a sour note as North Carolina gave up 25 runs in two losses to Auburn at home in super regionals, falling short of a return to Omaha. But UNC won 46 games, won its first ACC Tournament since 2013 and won a regional back-to-back years for the first time since 2008-09. Ultimately, that makes for a solid season.

North Carolina State (42-19, 18-12), reached regionals ⬅️➡️

The Wolfpack flew out of the gate, starting the season with 19 straight wins. They were the second-to-last undefeated team in the country, with only Arizona State remaining unbeaten longer. A midseason dip in form, when NC State lost three straight series, ultimately cost it a chance to host a regional for the second straight year, and instead it was sent to the Greenville Regional, where it made a quick exit with losses against Campbell and East Carolina.

NC State hasn’t won a regional since 2013, when it made it to Omaha, and this season ended with a disappointing four-game skid in the ACC Tournament and in regionals. But it produced some highlights, like that 19-game winning streak to start the season and winning a series at North Carolina for the first time since 2004.

Notre Dame (24-30, 13-17), no postseason ⬇️

After a sluggish 4-7 start to the season in the first three weeks, Notre Dame rebounded to win its first two ACC series, beating Wake Forest and Clemson on the road. From there, however, little went right for the Fighting Irish. They won just two more series—beating North Carolina State and sweeping Canisius—and their season ended as they gave up 22 runs in a pair of losses in the ACC Tournament.

Notre Dame has made the NCAA Tournament just once in the last 13 seasons (2015) and has had a winning conference record just once since joining the ACC for the 2014 season. Ultimately, that cost coach Mik Aoki his job following the season, his ninth at the program’s helm. In the ACC, Notre Dame is a challenging job, but it will look to find a way to be more competitive as it moves into a new era under Link Jarrett, who was hired Friday as the Fighting Irish's new coach.

Pittsburgh (21-34, 8-22), no postseason ⬅️➡️

This was always destined to be a rebuilding year at Pittsburgh as first-year head coach Mike Bell took over the program. Pitt went through some significant growing pains and at one point lost 19 of 21 games over about a month from early March to early April. The Panthers improved as the season went on, however, and from April 10 until the end of the season, they played above .500 baseball, including a series win against North Carolina.

Where the Panthers go from here is the key. Winning at Pitt is far from easy, and it hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1995. Figuring out how to turn that around is Bell’s task, but first just getting the Panthers to even .500 in ACC play, a mark they’ve never hit, would be a good first step.

Virginia (32-24, 14-16), no postseason ⬅️➡️

The season started inauspiciously for Virginia in the MLB4 Tournament in Arizona, as it went 0-3 on the weekend against Vanderbilt, Texas Christian and Cal State Fullerton. From there, however, the Cavaliers largely beat the teams they were expected to and lost to the teams they were expected to. They got themselves on to the NCAA Tournament bubble with an upset series win against Louisville in May but lost their last three games, including an 0-2 showing in the ACC Tournament, to fall off the bubble and again miss regionals.

It wasn’t the season Virginia wanted, and by the lofty standards coach Brian O’Connor has established in Charlottesville, it’s a big disappointment to miss the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons. But this was a young team that coming into the year looked an awful lot like a bubble team. That’s where the Cavaliers ended up. Now, they have to figure out how to take the next step and return to the postseason in 2020.

Virginia Tech (26-27, 9-21), no postseason ⬅️➡️

Digging out at Virginia Tech is proving to be difficult for second-year coach John Szefc. The Hokies haven’t had a winning season since 2013, when they won 40 games and hosted a regional. They started this spring well, winning their first seven games and raising some eyebrows as they swept through Stetson’s Rycass Classic on Opening Weekend. But after the calendar flipped to March, Virginia Tech won just one series (at Pittsburgh) the rest of the season and missed the ACC Tournament.

Szefc has a long track record of winning in his career, and he has the newly renovated English Field to recruit to. Getting Virginia Tech turned around is still a work in progress, however.

Wake Forest (31-26, 14-16), no postseason ⬅️➡️

The Demon Deacons spent much of the season hanging around the NCAA Tournament bubble, but three straight series losses to end the regular season and a 1-1 showing in the ACC Tournament scuttled those chances. Wake Forest had a strong offense led by Seymour and fellow sophomore Chris Lanzilli, but its pitching staff ranked last in the ACC with a 5.89 ERA.

Wake Forest has now missed the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons after making it for two straight years in 2016-17. Still, this year saw the young Demon Deacons take some important steps forward offensively. If they can get their pitching back on track, Wake Forest should be in for better days in 2020.

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