Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets vs. Boston College Eagles
2016 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament First Round
First Pitch: 3 PM
The other day, I was chatting with a coach I know from a non-ACC baseball conference. We were sizing up his team's chances, and we were joking about the national landscape. We talked about how weird the ACC was this year when a team like North Carolina is home sitting on its duff this week. And we talked about the playoff format.
Between 2005 and 2007, the ACC playoff format underwent drastic changes that saw the elimination of automatic bids to the bracket. Prior to 2005, the nine-team ACC had a play-in game between its two last place teams, with the winner advancing to join the top seven teams. From there, they split up into two brackets, which played a double elimination format until a winner was decided.
In 2005, the ACC expanded by a factor of two, adding Miami and Virginia Tech. They still kept everyone in the conference tournament, but the bottom four teams played single elimination play-in games, not the last two. Those teams then joined the remaining six for double-elimination brackets until a champion was crowned.
The next year, Boston College jumped on board, and the ACC eliminated the automatic bid to the conference tournament. The bottom four teams missed the ACC Tournament altogether, with the top eight teams playing a double elimination bracket. There was no play-in game for that year.
But in 2007, the entire format changed altogether. Gone were brackets, replaced by two pools of four teams. The top eight finishers made pool play, with the teams seeded first, fourth, fifth, and eighth in one pool and teams seeded second, third, sixth, and seventh in a second division. Pool winners played a single elimination game to determine the conference champion.
Pool play's been around ever since, even though the conference tournament expanded to 10 teams when the league added Pittsburgh and Notre Dame in time for the 2014 season.
There's something about pool play that just feels weird. You're guaranteed three games, but it takes away the feeling that every game means something. A loss in the first game hurts, but it's not crippling. That's the same thing we say about double-elimination, but it just feels different.
I don't have a problem with pool play, for what it's worth, but I just really like brackets. At this point, though, I'm just thrilled BC is here, and I'll nitpick it in earnest when they make it more frequently.
Record: 35-20 (13-16 ACC)
Last Time Out: Yup.
Around The Horn
Last weekend proved Georgia Tech is able to live up to the billing of a team with five .300 hitters. They hit .314 against the Boston College pitching staff over the weekend, mashing 15 runs in three games. In the finale alone, Wade Bailey had four hits and two RBI, and Ryan Peurifoy blasted the only Georgia Tech homer of the series.
On Thursday, Mike King struggled with his command, walking one more than he struck out in 5.2 innings thrown. He didn't have his usual sinker ball working, and his two-seam fastball was left just enough over the plate; Georgia Tech knocked him around for 10 hits and three earned runs. As is the case when you're constructed on pitching and defense, the fielding didn't help out the pitcher or vice-versa, with three errors coming back to haunt the Eagles in a 6-3 loss.
After Justin Dunn did what Justin Dunn does on the mound, the Eagles went with Jacob Stevens in the last game. Stevens didn't light the world on fire, but he departed the game after three innings with his team in a position to win. He handed the ball to his bullpen, who held Georgia Tech at bay as long as they could until the Yellow Jacket bats woke up.
There are no secrets to this Georgia Tech lineup, but it was inevitable that they would deliver some blows to the BC pitching. BC absorbed them the best that they could, survived, and advanced to the ACC Tournament.
The only question remains about how Georgia Tech will adapt to the Durham stadium. This is a team that went 23-11 at home but only 11-9 in road games. They're moving from a true hitters' park at home to a more pitcher-friendly stadium in Durham. There's a bigger outfield and more foul territory, meaning they'll have to adjust. It's the underlying storyline to watch, especially if they hit fly balls off of King.
On The Bump
Brandon Gold gets the start in an exact rematch of the Thursday outing. He picked up the win in that game to improve to 3-1 in his last four starts, allowing two or fewer earned runs in 11 of his 14 starts this season.
But Gold didn't exactly light the world on fire either on Thursday. He did enough to win the game, including going seven innings, but he had to pitch himself out of jams throughout the day. He allowed nine hits, and while he only walked one, his defense didn't help him out either, with only one of the three runs allowed being earned. He'll need to have better command against a Boston College offense known for being timely, not necessarily overpowering.
One thing we learned last week is that closer Matthew Gorst is one of the most legit last-inning arms in the ACC. He picked up his 11th save by making mince meat of the Eagles lineup, striking out two, then pitched the ninth in the regular season finale. If Gorst is coming into the game, it's as good as over.
Zac Ryan saw a ton of time against the Boston College lineup last week, going for a long relief appearance after pitching the eighth. I'm not sure if that keeps him out of a longer appearance today, but mark that name down. He's the type of guy who can do yeoman's work to keep a team in the game as long as his defense doesn't fail him.
On the other side, Boston College will turn to lefty Jesse Adams. This is going to cause fans to go up in arms if they were hoping for Mike King, but bear in mind that college baseball rest is completely different than the way people view pitcher's rest in the pros.
College pitchers pitch once per week, with the best guys throwing on the weekend. On Thursday, King threw 106 pitches. It's asking a lot of him to come back on four days' rest, when he hasn't had to throw on that short of a rest all year, and deliver a quality start. While Adams pitched on Saturday, he only threw two innings and 29 pitches. That's essentially a bullpen session for a guy who knows how to hit the switch and go out to throw as a starting pitcher. On his career, Adams has 14 starts, including six at the start of this year. Last season, he threw 62 innings for the Eagles, including eight starts.
Rain hit the Durham are on Monday, but the weather is opening up for an absolutely gorgeous day of baseball.
The morning game featuring Duke and Wake Forest is going to be slightly better than the BC game, if only because it's going to be a little bit cooler. Temperatures for the 11 AM game will be around the low 70s, steadily rising through the course of the game.
By the time BC and Georgia Tech hit the field, it's going to be substantially hotter than Boston. First pitch temperatures should be in the high 70s with the mercury creeping up over 80 by the late stages. The predicted high for the day is 84, with about 50% humidity and absolutely no shot of precipitation or gusting winds over the course of the day.
In other words, it's going to be a warm, slightly breezy day. Bring your sunblock and enjoy the ride.
Where in the World is Boston College Baseball?
The ACC epicenter is, was, and will always be North Carolina. It's where the majority of the conference is located, including the official headquarters. It's a legacy built on Tobacco Road, and it's why, save for a couple of years in Jacksonville right about when Boston College joined the ACC, champions are usually crowned in the Tar Heel State.
The Durham Bulls Athletic Park was designed by the same company (HOK) that built pretty much every major stadium you'll need to know about. They're the architecture company responsible for Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta Falcons), Palau Blaugrana Arena (FC Barcelona), MetLife Stadium (New York Giants and Jets), Nationwide Arena (Columbus Blue Jackets), Sprint Center (Kansas City and the home of the Big XII Basketball Tournament), American Airline Arena (Miami Heat), and about eleventy billion more.
In the world of professional baseball, Camden Yards, Jacobs Field, and Coors Field are among the listed stadiums they've had their hands in (that's the Orioles, Indians, and Rockies, for those keeping score at home).
The DBAP has some fun characteristics that make it reminiscent of classic parks. Its left field wall is a 32-foot high edifice known as the Blue Monster, complete with manual scoreboard. There's a pavilion on top of the wall, which completes its attempt at recreating Fenway down in North Carolina.
But perhaps the best known part of the park is the snorting bull out in left field. The bull is a direct link to the movie Bull Durham, which came out before anyone playing in this year's tournament was ever born. Let that sink in for a while when someone hits the bull and wins a steak.
All in all, this is one heck of a stadium, and it's everything anyone would want in a field of dreams for the ACC Tournament (see what I did there?).
Just for the heck of it, here are the dimensions at the 10,000 seat, $18.5 million brick ballpark. It measures 305 feet down the left field line to the Blue Monster and 325 feet down the right field line. The power alleys are 375 feet, and center field is 400 feet from home plate. It's a natural grass field.
Music To...Wait, We Have to Play You Guys Again?
Sarah McLachlan - I Will Remember You.
After all the drama, it's a shame that either Georgia Tech or Boston College is going home at the end of this game. We're really going to miss you guys.
No Really Here's A Song To Get Hyped About the ACC Tournament To
Bon Jovi - Livin' on a Prayer
As big of a Bruce Springsteen fan I am (and believe me, that's a pretty big fan), my all-time favorite band will always be Bon Jovi. And this is their finest work.
Look, there have been some lean years with Boston College baseball. There were hard times, times when this team was down in the dumps and really needed to be lifted up. But now? This team is living on its prayer, hoping to keep the momentum going into the national tournament. It starts today. We're all going to hold on to what we've got.
Random Facts of the Week
While filming the movie Bull Durham, Kevin Costner reportedly hit two homers at the old Durham Athletic Park while cameras were still filming. He also apparently decided to throw out runners even when cameras weren't rolling.
I have used the term "groundball with eyes" no less than 40 times this year.
Crash Davis (Kevin Costner's character in the movie) was a real baseball player who had a career .230 batting average in 148 career game across three years with the Philadelphia A's. His career ended when he was drafted into the navy during World War II and was assigned to Harvard to run the ROTC program. After being discharged, he joined (you guessed it) the Durham Bulls. He died in 2001 from stomach cancer.
The movie features Max Patkin, a man nicknamed "The Clown Prince of Baseball." He was a real entertainer who spent 50 years in the industry, passing away in 1999.
This will be the first time BC has played a conference opponent four times in a season since 2010, when they played Virginia, Miami, and Florida State. They met all three teams during the regular season that year, then played them as part of the ACC Tournament.
This is the first time BC will play a conference opponent four times in a row, though it's not the first time they've played a team for a four-game set this year. They beat NIU to start the season in four straight.
Last year, Jesse Adams threw seven innings of shutout baseball against the Yellow Jackets, striking out seven and allowing only one hit in a win.
This is what you live for. These are the times of games everyone wants to be playing. There is nothing like postseason playoffs in any sport, and single elimination baseball is going to be just plain fun.
This game has several underlying factors. Boston College is an incredibly battle-tested team this year, winning 12 games by one-run. They know how to eke out victories, earning them the nickname last weekend of the "Cardiac Kids of Chestnut Hill."
But at the same time, you're never going to mistake Boston College for being a team that's "playoff tested," and they're definitely not as experienced in the playoffs as Georgia Tech. The BC coaches all played in the postseason as players, but only Jim Foster's coached in a playoff game before. For what it's worth, Greg Sullivan, you made the Division III national tournament at EastConn only because I wasn't playing for UMass-Dartmouth. Mark it down.
There's no secrets in this game. Everyone knows what the other guys have. The lineups aren't going to be a mystery, and the pitchers aren't going to be some hotshot unknown coming out of the bullpen. This is a straight up game where one team is going to play better on this day than the other.
Playoff baseball is back at Boston College. Let the battle begin.