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First Pitch: Stakes Continue To Rise As Eagles Head To Chapel Hill

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The Beanpot Trophy is back in Chestnut Hill, which means we're refocusing on the bigger prize - a trip to Durham for the ACC Tournament.

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

The Beanpot is back in Chestnut Hill. All Massachusetts rivals are vanquished. Boston College is the biggest and baddest baseball team in the Bay State's collegiate climate. It's time to turn the page and quickly move forward to focus on what matters - a trip to Durham, NC for the ACC Tournament.

The road isn't going to be easy. We can't focus on the road ahead against Notre Dame or Virginia Tech. The road to Durham doesn't go through Blacksburg or Chestnut Hill or anywhere else. Right now, the road goes through Chapel Hill.

It's imperative to realize just how important every inning, every at bat is. Their defense has been outstanding, their pitching elite. The hitting has gotten it done when it matters most. There's a simple formula, and the Eagles need to continue following it.

North Carolina is as traditional a power as it comes in the ACC. The Tar Heels are ranked 23rd in the Baseball America poll but remain unranked in the D1Baseball and Collegiate Baseball polls, as well as the USA Today Coaches Poll. They're 16th in the RPI, and although they're behind BC in the ACC standings, they're a virtual lock to make the NCAA Tournament with a 26-15 record. They're a very good team at home (15-5).

If there's a hole on the Tar Heels, it's their strength of schedule. That might not seem like a big task, but consider this - a Coastal Division team, UNC avoided games against Louisville and Florida State. They lost two of three to Clemson, winning only the third game, and failed to sweep NC State. They'll play Notre Dame in a couple of weeks, but bear in mind that the level of competition among the Atlantic Division is substantially harder and therefore levels the playing field in crossover matchups with higher-seeded Coastal Division teams.

Either way, what's most important this weekend is a win on Friday, then a win on Saturday, and then, possibly, a win on Sunday. Nothing is more important as the next pitch, and battles need to break down to that minute level. The pressure gets higher and higher with every game, and nothing is more important than the one directly in front.

On Paper

Record: 26-15 (10-10 ACC)
Last Time Out: Defeated both UNC-Wilmington and Campbell during the week (6-5, 8-3) but split with Virginia Tech last weekend in Blacksburg (3-8, 11-10) with the third game canceled

Around The Horn

Like the rest of the ACC teams Boston College faced this year, the Tar Heels are a very good hitting team, swinging the wood...er...aluminum at a .271 clip. They've scored 233 runs with 23 homers and 10 triples to their credit. Nearly a quarter of their hits (66) are doubles, and they're very good at getting on base.

Like some of the other teams BC's faced, the Tar Heels are a top heavy lineup with guys capable of putting runners across even if they're not hitting. Brian MIller and Korey Dunbar are both over .300 this season, with Miller hitting .349. But Miller's more of a table setter, having scored 20 runs but only driving in nine. Dunbar's scored 26 runs with 20 RBI, including five homers. Skye Bolt and Tyler Ramirez also have five dingers to go along with .290 and .282 batting averages, respectively.

As for the bottom of the lineup, Alex Raburn is only hitting .212, but consider he has a .315 on base percentage. Zach Gahagan is hitting .231 with a .319 on base percentage. They're both very good at getting on base, which means they're going to challenge BC's pitching staff's elite status as of late.

Those numbers show what UNC can do if the pitching is off its mark, but there's good news and silver linings around the corner. UNC is only hitting .247 in ACC play, and only Landon Lassiter is a better hitter in conference than he is outside of the league. He's hitting .342 with 12 RBI against ACC pitching, but considering he averages out to .295 overall shows he can struggle at the dish.

Of those guys we mentioned earlier consider these numbers - Ramirez is hitting .219 in league play, and Dunbar is hitting .243.  Gahagan and Raburn are hitting .164 and .133, respectively. ACC pitching has eaten these guys alive, and that's something BC can take advantage of with a pitching staff that's been downright nasty, filthy, elite, and outstanding over the past few weeks.

On The Bump

Zac Gallen and JB Bukauskas will most likely draw weekend starts, having already started seven games apiece in league play. They're having very similar seasons, with Gallen going 2-2 in league play with 45.1 innings and a 3.57 ERA, while Bukauskas is 2-0 with a 3.73 ERA in 41 innings. After them, Benton Moss drew the bulk of the work with a 3-0 record in four starts and a 3.98 ERA.

Trevor Kelley is the first name popping up in the bullpen, with good reason. He's made 30 appearances this year, all but a lock to throw some innings in this one, and he's been elite with a 4-1 record and a 2.25 ERA in 56 innings thrown. He's actually thrown more innings than both Gallen and Bukauskas.

Trent Thornton is another name to watch - he's 3-4 with a 4.12 ERA in 20 appearances. He's also struck out 61 guys over 48 innings while only walking 24.

UNC's shortened the bullpen and pitching staff considerably since getting into the bulk of ACC season, and we're likely to see Kelley and Thornton more often than anyone else. Spencer Trayner's seen some innings, as has Jason Morgan, but we can safely assume that the Tar Heels are going to rely on a short staff with only a few arms.

It becomes imperative, therefore, for the Eagles to work deep into counts and rattle sabers with this team early on. The Eagles did a great job of getting early runs against Georgia Tech, and if they can continue that run, they'll be able to push pitch counts high on the starters. That'll force UNC to their duo out of the pen earlier than expected. If BC gets to guys like AJ Bogucki or Nick Raquet, they're going to be in a very good position to get some late runs, possibly insurance if they're leading.

Scoreboard Watching

We all know that we have to keep an eye on the ACC scoreboard for all matchups this weekend. Here are the league games going on this weekend:

Notre Dame at Wake Forest
Virginia Tech at Duke
Virginia at NC State
Clemson at Georgia Tech
Florida State at Miami

Absolutely nobody beating anyone else really helps BC except for maybe Clemson against Georgia Tech. Other than that, the teams in front of BC are matched up against teams that, for the most part, are right on their heels. You can't root for Notre Dame when the Eagles are trying to catch them, and you can't root for Wake Forest because they're right behind our beloved BC in the standings.

Keep an eye on the scores, but bear in mind everything's going to look vastly different come Monday.

Music To Listen To As You're Wondering About That New Shade Of Blue In the UNC Logo

James Taylor - Carolina In My Mind. Better hope the Eagles don't go to Carolina in their mind but get there in their bodies and open up a can of Boston-branded whoop ass.

Fun Fact Of The Week

UNC is considered a traditional ACC power because they've been to 10 College World Series, but they haven't won a national championship (then again, neither has anyone else in the league). They went to the biggest of dances twice during the 1960s (1960 and 1966), then again in 1978, then again in 1989.

They wouldn't go to Omaha between 1989 and 2006, and they've been a constant mainstay nearly every year since. They made the College World Series in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2013.

When it comes to NCAA Tournaments, UNC hasn't missed the field since 2001, and they've made it 23 times since 1982.

11 current Major Leaguers are in the big leagues, including seven pitchers.

If you get the chance to go to a Cape League game over the summer, a good chunk of Tar Heels are usually out this way, and they're identifiably by white Nike cleats with the North Carolina blue. When Nike Shox were a huge thing, the shock absorbers were Carolina blue. The things I remember about my time down the Cape.

Prediction Time

Boston College absolutely has to come out of this series with wins. Two out of three are a necessity. One out of three isn't necessarily a bad thing. A sweep puts some distance between the Eagles and the lower part of the playoff race. It would put them in the driver's seat heading into the two final weekends.

I predict BC takes one of the three games. Good Lord let us win two.

Got any predictions and thoughts? Weigh in with yours in the comment section below!