Numbers Game

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina enters its final week of the regular season presumably on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble after clinching an ACC Tournament berth on Sunday.

Despite losing their fifth series of the season – the program's most series losses since dropping five in 2010 – the Tar Heels persevered to secure a critical 5-4 win over No. 5 Florida State in the series finale.

While a series win may have locked UNC into postseason play for the 13th consecutive season, the lone victory was significant in what has become a numbers game for head coach Mike Fox and his club.

"It was a game we had to win," Fox said. "If you get swept this time of the year, it's going to be hard to get to .500 in the league. Your goals start becoming unreachable. We're trying to get to 30 wins, for one. Trying to get a few more ACC wins as well. When you look at what we have ahead, we just need to keep getting wins, it is as simple as that."

Sunday's win assured UNC of extending its season at least one week longer as its 14-13 conference record wraps up a position in next week's ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C. The Tar Heels are three games ahead of Pitt and N.C. State for the 10th and final spot in the tournament and own tiebreakers over both programs.

With the expanded format of the ACC Tournament, however, UNC still has work to do to get into pool play. The top six seeds are automatically slotted into the round-robin brackets, while play-in games between the 7-10 and 8-9 seeds will occur on Tuesday with the winners advancing.

UNC is currently in fifth place in the ACC standings, but will likely need to win its series against red-hot Coastal Division leader Miami in South Florida this weekend to avoid a play-in game. Clemson (13-13) hosts Boston College (9-18) and a series win by the Tigers would move them ahead of sixth-place Maryland (15-14) in the standings.

With fourth-place Duke (15-12) holding a pivotal tiebreaker over UNC by virtue of its March sweep, a 15-15 conference record would drop the Tar Heels to seventh in the standings.

Regardless, the opportunity to further build its NCAA Tournament resume is significant. According to Boyd's World's RPI Needs Report, UNC currently needs to win at least one of its final four games (Gardner-Webb, 3 vs. Miami) to stay in the RPI Top-45, which is considered a cutoff threshold of sorts for at-large bids, and can crack the top-32 with a 4-0 record.

UNC is 6-8 against the RPI Top-50 and 12-16 against the RPI Top-100. Miami currently ranks 10th in the RPI.

Add in a solid showing at NewBridge Bank Park next week and UNC will likely be dancing yet again. Don't put it past the Tar Heels, however, to try to cement their NCAA Tournament bid this weekend against the Hurricanes.

"If we play to the best of our abilities, we're capable of beating anybody," senior outfielder Tom Zengel said.

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