N.C. State fans would love nothing more than to see their beloved nine face North Carolina Saturday in primetime with a well-rested Carlos Rodon ready to shut down the lefty-laden Heels lineup and lead the Pack to the conference championship game. Though it is possible to make it to the championship game with a 2-1 record in pool play, the Pack's best chance for a meaningful game against the Heels is to take care of their other pool opponents first. Go 1-1 or 0-2 against Clemson and Miami while holding Rodon back and Saturday's game is likely rendered meaningless.
The reality is that there are no easy outs in the ACC tournament. North Carolina is ranked #2 in the NCAA's official RPI rankings; Clemson is 12th and Miami is 20th. Given the difficulty of the pool, Elliot Avent should treat the tournament as if it were single elimination. Win today and worry about tomorrow tomorrow, and that means Rodon should toe the rubber against Clemson in Wednesday's opener at 7 p.m.
Rodon went 6-1 against league foes, suffering his only setback at the hands (claws?) of the Tigers back on March 8th in what was a particularly painful day at the park for the Pack. That's also the game where Trea Turner went down with an ankle injury. Rodon getting redemption would be a nice storyline, but the main reason he should go in this game is because runs will be incredibly difficult to come by against a Tiger team with a 2.97 ERA. If Daniel Gossett (9-3, 2.20 ERA) or Matthew Crownover (7-2, 2.05) toes the rubber, Rodon is really the Pack's only hope of matching up.
Miami also has a stout staff (3.27 team ERA) led by first team all-ACC selection Bryan Radziewski (8-2, 1.64), a junior lefty who almost certainly will face the Heels Thursday when the Pack's other pool mates open the series. Since the Canes are likely to spend their ace in the opener, and because Miami struggles to score runs--the U finished second to last in the league in runs and tied for last in home runs--Friday's game two would appear to be the perfect opportunity for senior Ethan Ogburn to pick up a big win for the Pack. Ogburn has been up and down all season but mostly down in conference play, where he has a 6.00 ERA, but he opened the 2012 ACC tournament with six and 2/3 innings of solid work for the Pack...against Miami. He scattered five hits, walked a batter, struck out five, and yielded just a pair of runs in that Pack win. He can do it again.
So, Rodon earns redemption against the Tigers, Ogburn pitches like the guy he was last year against the Canes, and the Pack suddenly has a championship on the line against the Tarheels. Who's going to start next? That's when the deep Pack pen comes into play. Logan Jernigan has been getting the ball over the plate of late and has the stuff to get through the Heels order once, and then it is attack of the lefties. Avent will have Grant Sasser (3-0, 1.27, 7 saves), Travis Orwig (3-0, 1.50, 1), D.J. Thomas (2-0, 2.70), Will Gilbert (0-0, 3.18), and talented but erratic freshman Brad Stone (2-2, 6.23, 10 K/9) to hopefully pick apart a lineup that will start at least six lefties, including the Heels' two best hitters in Colin Moran (1.108 OPS!) and Cody Stubbs (1.026).
It's not like an offense as strong as UNC's can't hit lefties at all, but those lefty-lefty matchups are the Pack's best bet of springing the upset. What do Chris Diaz, Daniel Polka, Rodon, David Rosenberger, Kelly Secrest, and Brandon Waddelll have in common? They are all left handed, and those six southpaws handed the Heels six of their eight losses on the season. Of course Rodon is the Pack's best lefty, but the Heels saw him less than a month ago, so throwing the entire arsenal of lefty bullpen arms at Carolina seems like the best course of action now, especially since I don't think the Pack get by red-hot Clemson without their ace. You could even make the argument that the Tigers are a better team than the Heels right now. Carolina is not the same club without Skye Bolt and enters the postseason having won just four of their last eight games.
Earlier in the season I offered Avent a little unsolicited lineup advice; he followed it (which I'm sure was purely coincidental, but still) and the Pack swept Georgia Tech in Atlanta for the first time since dirt was invented. Avent didn't quite get the order right, but he got all of the right names in there. Now follow this handy layout for the tournament and the Pack will be playing on Sunday. And guess what: Rodon might just be able to give the Pack a little something on Sunday after three days' rest.
And seconds after I hit post: this: