The Atlantic Coast Conference awoke on Friday to a baseball day rife with storylines. Despite Clemson's victory over Boston College on Thursday night, the possibility existed for a number of difference scenarios where any one of four teams could make the conference tournament. Needing to utilize a fourth or fifth tier tiebreaker scenario wasn't out of the realm of possibility, and it seemed the top part of the league could have a ripple effect as to who made it in and who was left out.
The Eagles stood among the teams with a fighting chance, even though that number was severely damaged by a loss to Clemson on Thursday night. Warming up to take the field against the Tigers on Friday, they still could make it if the right scenario played itself out. It was more than unlikely, but that fighting chance was enough to at least give the game some significance.
Redshirt sophomore Andrew Chin responded with the best pitching performance of the Mike Gambino era. Pitching all nine innings, he delivered the first complete game since Michael Dennard defeated Maryland in 2010 - when Mik Aoki was the head coach. Allowing two hits over his time, he delivered the most effective game since Mike Wlodarczyk allowed two hits over seven innings against West Virginia in 2005 - when BC was in its last year in the Big East. And allowing just a single run, unearned, because of an error committed by centerfielder Tom Bourdon, he went out and pitched BC on his back to a 3-1 victory that featured him retiring 10 straight between the fifth and eighth and 14 of 16 to close the game.
Too bad it was too little too late.
As the teams took the field, North Carolina State wrapped up a victory in the first game of their doubleheader against Virginia Tech. That meant the game, the performance by Chin, and the efficient manner in which BC dismantled the #25 team in the nation, the second place team in their division - it didn't matter. They were eliminated from the ACC Tournament before the game ever started, and they'll finish this season out on Saturday with one last game before the curtain comes down on 2014.
BC got multiple RBI from Joe Cronin, who drove in two with a double in the third. After Steve Sauter singled and Blake Butera doubled to put runners on second and third, Cronin laced one to the outfield that plated them both. Cronin scored one batter later when Chris Shaw singled him home, putting BC up 3-0 in the third inning.
The Tigers responded with the three base error off of Bourdon and Chris Okey RBI sacrifice fly to plate the runner to make it 3-1, but that was about it for scoring. Chin allowed just five base runners and delivered some of the most masterful command of his short, two-season career.
With the win, BC won its 22nd game of the season. That matches 2012 for the most wins in the Mike Gambino era, but it failed to get the Eagles into the ACC Tournament. Chin improved to 5-2 on the season, lowering his ERA to 3.10 in the process, best among starters and second best on the team. The former fifth round draft pick will almost assuredly find himself among names called in June when the MLB Entry Draft convenes; as a redshirt sophomore, he fulfills the requirement of being three years removed from high school, when he was picked in the fifth round. He missed his first year with BC while recovering from Tommy John Surgery.
The offseason will begin after Saturday's finale and the questions about the future of the program will begin anew. Boston College is clearly in the corner of the baseball program with the stated goal reaffirming the new stadium on the Brighton campus. But Brad Bates and his staff have to wonder about the expectations of the program. In four years under Mik Aoki, the Eagles qualified for an NCAA Tournament, won a game in said tournament, and had gone to two ACC Championships. They missed out on the final round of the 2009 league championship by a tiebreaker after going 2-1 in pool play, then went 1-2 the following year. They took Texas to the limit in the longest collegiate game ever played. And they haven't been back since.
Before Aoki, Pete Hughes never finished below .500 overall in his first four years, winning 30 games twice, including 35 in 2000. Hughes was coaching in the Big East, which was substantially different from the ACC, but he won 37 games and went 17-8 in league in the team's final year in that conference. In his final season at BC, the team's first in the ACC, Hughes still won nearly 30 games despite going 9-21 in league play.
In four years under Gambino, BC has not qualified for a league tournament. They've fallen substantially behind some of the more local programs, and while there were improvements in league play on the field, losses to Harvard, Northeastern, and the Beanpot will dog this team into the offseason. The stated goal of making the conference tournament was not achieved, and as a result, there will be some analysis as to what happened throughout the season. Has the team progressed? Yes. Is it enough to save Gambino's job? We don't know, and that's something we'll look to discuss as the offseason rises.
They also face the task of potentially rebuilding the pitching staff in the offseason. If Chin is drafted high enough, he will likely be in a position to sign and start his professional career. John Gorman, a former 50th round draft choice, turned into a front-of-the-rotation starter and could hear his name called earlier in June. And tasked with rebuilding the pitching staff, Mike Gambino could be faced with another regression of a year next season. Brad Bates has to wonder if, with the money being invested in the new stadium, Gambino is the right man for the job or if the team needs new blood to start what feels like a constant rebuilding process.
The ACC Tournament will begin next week in Greensboro, and for the fourth consecutive year, Boston College will not be taking part. But all of that is for discussion through the offseason. The Eagles still have the manner of finishing out their 2014 campaign, which they'll do down in Clemson.