CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Standing between North Carolina and postseason tournament play is rival N.C. State.
The Tar Heels (33-19, 12-15 ACC) enter their final regular season series tied for ninth place in the ACC standings with Duke. The top 10 teams in the league standings earn invites to the ACC Baseball Championship next week at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
UNC won a critical series last weekend against Notre Dame, which marked its first series win in five weeks. The Tar Heels have lost 17 of their last 32 games since opening the season with an 18-2 record. N.C. State (32-17, 13-12 ACC) has struggled more recently, losing six of its last seven in ACC play.
Both teams will take the diamond at Doak Field in Raleigh starting on Thursday with intent on improving their postseason positioning. Three games in the loss column separate the fifth- and 12th-place teams in the ACC standings, and six of those teams square off in series this weekend.
Coastal Division winner Miami (19-6 ACC), Louisville (19-8), Florida State (15-8) and Virginia (16-11) have secured spots in the ACC Tournament. The top six teams avoid Tuesday’s play-in games and advance directly to the round round format scheduled for Wednesday-Saturday.
Depending on how this weekend’s series plays out, UNC could finish as high as fifth or as low as 13th in the ACC standings. A series win over N.C. State clinches a spot in the ACC Baseball Championship. Due to tiebreakers over Duke and Clemson, there several scenarios in which UNC could make the tournament with just one win in Raleigh.
Mike Fox’s club could also play in Durham even if its swept this weekend, although that scenario would require Georgia Tech (12-14) to sweep Boston College (11-14), Clemson (13-14) to sweep Notre Dame (11-14) and either Pitt (10-16) to sweep Duke (12-15) or Duke to win at least two games against Pitt.
“All you have to do is look at the standings and see that there is going to be a lot of movement the last weekend,” Fox told InsideCarolina.com on Tuesday. “Teams are fighting for those spots in the tournament with us being one of them. The State-Carolina series does not need any extra fuel, but it is certainly going to have it this weekend because our team could go either way.
“We have to look at it as it is a great opportunity for us. You can move three or four spots up or down depending upon a win.”
The magnitude of the regular season finale extends beyond the ACC Tournament. In 2010, UNC missed the ACC Tournament but received an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. Last season, the Tar Heels played in Durham but missed out on the Field of 64 for the first time since 2001.
Fox has his team better positioned this year – UNC ranks 14th in the RPI and is 13-14 against RPI Top-50 opponents – although its most impressive series win dates back to February against No. 21 Oklahoma State.
D1Baseball.com currently projects UNC as the No. 3 seed in the Columbia, S.C. Regional.