ACC Tournament Lifts Eagles To Post-Season

The Boston College baseball team made history this year by making the ACC tournament for the first time as a member. There impressive performance, winning two games against elite programs, cemented their place in the NCAA tournament. The Eagles are going to the NCAA's for the first time in 40 years and it was their play in the ACC tournament that made their case to the selection committee.

There have been many moments this season that could be described as the ‘coming out party' for Boston College baseball. But while previous events this season – their 6-0 start, series victories over perennial powers Florida State and North Carolina State, taking a share of the division lead – may have signaled to the baseball world that the Eagles are a force to be reckoned with, this past weekend in Raleigh brought it to the next level. The Eagles are no longer just a team to contend with – they are a team with a legitimate chance to do damage in the NCAA tournament.

Despite a disappointing opening game loss to Florida State on Wednesday, the Eagles recovered with eye-opening victories over top-20 teams Georgia Tech and Miami to finish the ACC tournament 2-1, crack the top 35 in RPI, and cement their spot in the NCAA field of 64.

"It was a good week for us. The kids played well," said BC head coach Mik Aoki. "The format of the tournament is such that it's a little disappointing, knowing that you can't make the championship game [going into the final game of pool play]. But for us, with where we are in terms of hoping to get that at-large bid, that last game [against Miami] was every bit as important as it would have been if we were playing for a spot in the ACC championship game."

But the Eagles did more than just win a pair of games – they seem to have assembled a winning formula: a pair of aces in J.B. MacDonald and Pat Dean, a pair of stoppers in the bullpen with closer Mike Belfiore and the versatile Kevin Moran, and a balanced offense with speed and power. Mickey Wiswall powered the offense in BC's 7-3 win over Georgia Tech, going 3-for-4 with two home runs and five RBI. The next day against Miami, Wiswall was 0-for-4, but his teammates picked him up, putting up 10 runs against Miami as part of a 10-1 win.

BC is now 33-24, and in the NCAA bracket, which was unveiled on Monday afternoon. The NCAA announced the sixteen regional hosts on Sunday, including four teams from the ACC: Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State, and North Carolina. The Eagles travel to the Austin regional, joining Texas, Texas State and Army.

Florida State 7, Boston College 2: Missed Opportunities

The Eagles' chances at winning the ACC crown were gone pretty quickly – in fact, you could say that they disappeared in the sixth inning of their first game.

John Leonard pitched well for BC, holding FSU to four runs in five innings. In the top of the sixth, with BC down 2-0, they put up one run on a Tony Sanchez RBI single to cut the deficit in half. But with a potential big inning brewing, BC ran themselves into trouble and out of contention.

With Wiswall on first base and Sanchez on second and one out, Mike Belfiore hit a hard liner to left that bounced off the arm of left fielder Mike McGee. Sanchez held up to make sure McGee didn't catch the ball; he rounded third after the ball got free, but third base coach Joe Hastings held him up. Wiswall, however, did not see that sign from Hastings, and ran hard toward third base – forcing Sanchez to head for home after two delays. He was gunned down at the plate, and the next batter, Barry Butera, grounded out to end the inning.

Mik Aoki gave his take on the game-changing play:

"That was just sort of an unfortunate play. It was one of those deals where everybody made the right read if they were the only one on base, but the fact that they were out there at the same time made them both wrong."

"Tony started, and broke like he was going to go score, and then rightfully kind of put the brakes on when he saw that McGee had a chance to catch it. It took him a second to realize it had gone through McGee, so he started back up again. Coach Hastings, seeing that Tony had come to a complete stop, stopped him and played it conservatively at that point, realizing that we had a chance for a big inning.

"Mickey, on the other hand, had the benefit of running from 1st to 2nd, so he could see that play in front of him the entire time that he's running. He clearly saw it go through McGee, where that's a tougher one for Tony because he has to look over his shoulder a little bit to see that occur. Then you end up with the two guys at third base, and Tony ends up getting thrown out, and we're 2nd and 3rd now having 2 outs instead of 1. That was a big deal."

As so often happens in baseball, a half inning after squandering a big scoring chance, the Eagles gave up two more runs in the home half of the sixth. The Seminoles added three more in the seventh as they cruised to victory. Florida State then beat Miami on Thursday to move to 2-0 and clinch first place in the pool.

"It throws you back on your heels a little bit, to make those mistakes," said Aoki. "It would have been one thing if we had put up a scoreless inning, and it's 2-1 coming away from that fiasco - then you're in pretty good shape. But give them a little bit of credit, they're able to put a 2-spot on us, now it feels like it's almost a 4- run swing on you. They were able to open it up, and that was that. Unfortunately, that turned out to be our chance… in retrospect, it got us eliminated."

Boston College 7, Georgia Tech 3: Rallying Back

"We were able to do what we've done all year – come back out the next day and forget about that hard loss," continued Aoki, praising his team's resilience. The Eagles, who avoided long losing streaks all year, shrugged off the Florida State game with an impressive victory over Georgia Tech on Thursday on the back of senior hurler J.B. MacDonald.

Wiswall's two homers and five RBI proved to be the difference in BC's 7-3 win.

"Our kids, in particular Andrew Lawrence and Mike Sudol, who were pressed into duty against a lefty due to the injuries we have, did a great job," Aoki said. "They did a good job of keeping it rolling and turning that lineup over and getting to the top, where Robbie [Anston] had a really good game. And obviously [Wiswall] had a great game as well."

"We put ourselves in a position to where had Miami been able to beat Florida state, then we're playing Miami the next day with Pat Dean on the mound, and I'd take those odds."

Unfortunately, it was not to be, as FSU clinched their spot in the final. But BC's win over Georgia Tech was an important mark in program history, as it was the school's first ever ACC tournament win. It was also considered by many nationally to be the one that clinched their spot in the dance.

Additionally, Moran and Belfiore made their presences felt at the back end of the bullpen. Moran pitched three innings of two hit, shutout ball to stymie the Yellowjackets and bridge the gap to closer Mike Belfiore. Moran would go on to pitch a no-hit eighth inning against Miami on Friday.

Aoki on Moran:

"Kevin has really grown into his role and he's really developed as a pitcher. He's always had great stuff, and I think it just took a couple of rough outings at the beginning of the year for him to just sort of settle in. In the latter half of the year, one of the things that he has really done an impressive job of improving on is the ability to throw strikes consistently.

"Earlier in the year, you'd bring him in for one tight situation after another, and it always seemed like he'd go 2-0 on the first hitter, maybe 3-1, and maybe walk a guy or two. More often than not, it was the walks that would do him in… he was creating his own jams. In his last eight to ten outings he just hasn't done that.

We've seen the walk numbers stabilize and we've seen strikeouts go up. He's a pretty good dude to be able to bridge the gap to Belfiore. There's a flexibility that you have with Kevin, he doesn't have to be that one inning type of a guy - he can go 50-60 pitches, maybe even a little more than that... He's been phenomenal."

Boston College 10, Miami 1: Sending A Message

BC was eliminated from winning the group before the last game against Miami, but they still needed to solidify their NCAA spot, and they did just that with an impressive beat-down the Hurricanes.

In the post-game press conference, Aoki compared his team's mentality against Miami to an NHL playoff team down 3-1 in a series going into game five.

"We obviously had a lot more to play for than Miami did," he said. "That's not to say that they didn't come to play… but like the team facing a 3-1 deficit, we're a hell of a lot more desperate in game five than the other team. And that's how we played. I think if we come out of the ACC tournament 1-2, we're still very much a 50-50 proposition for NCAAs depending on what happens in some of the other conference tournaments… but now, validating a win over Georgia Tech with a win over Miami, I don't think they could keep us out."

Pat Dean continued his run from mid-week starter to ACC ace. The man who Aoki calls his likely Friday night starter next season tossed seven innings of one-run ball, striking out five and not walking anyone on the afternoon.

Aoki says that like Moran, Dean has developed over the course of the year and emerged as an important player for BC.

"When Pat has trouble, it's because he tends to miss to the middle of the plate. He doesn't struggle by walking a whole bunch of guys – he'll get into trouble by being wild within the strike zone, and leaving pitches over that can get hit hard. But when he is able to move the fastball in and out and hit his locations, he is really, really good. He's pitching like a #1 pitcher," he said.

For his efforts, Dean was named to the All-ACC Tournament team. His fellow sophomore Mickey Wiswall was the other BC representative on the all-tournament team.

"It's nice to see the young guys developing," said Aoki. "Obviously, with [Sanchez, MacDonald, and Belfiore graduating]… looking to next year, it's nice to see we've got some guys who can step up and take big time roles on this team. Of course, they're making good cases for themselves as draft prospects, too, so it might be just one more year [for Moran and Dean]. But that's something we can worry about then – for now, we've hopefully got some big games coming up."


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