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MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – The Atlantic Coast Conference tournament is shaping up to be one of the best in years.
Louisville hasn’t even been in the ACC for a full year. For these Cardinals, that’s still long enough to feel the weight of the league’s pesky national title drought.
The ACC’s best chance at its first national championship in 60 years might ride with its newest member.
The Cardinals (42-14) enter this week’s league tournament in Durham, North Carolina, as the No. 1 seed after going 25-5 in league play — three games better than Miami.
Notre Dame coach Mik Aoki on Monday called Louisville’s season “nothing short of remarkable.”
The ACC Tournament begins Tuesday with two play-in games, followed by round-robin pool play during the next four days. The two pool winners meet Sunday in the title game.
An ACC team hasn’t won the College World Series since Wake Forest in 1955. Louisville coach Dan McDonnell says that drought was a topic of conversation in recruiting during six seasons as an assistant at Mississippi.
Now preparing for his third different conference tournament in three years, McDonnell says his Cardinals want to be the ones to end it.
“Coming into the ACC, it’s a great baseball conference,” McDonnell said. “The challenge was, ‘Guys, we have to do our part in this league and uphold the standard.’ … I just wanted our kids to believe and buy in and join the train of success.
“And if some years we carry the flag, then we carry the flag,” he added. “And other years, there’s many teams capable of doing it. … We just wanted to do our part.”
They’ve certainly fit right into their new league.
Louisville’s 25 wins set the ACC single-season record, and won all 10 of their conference series.
“I thought it was the best club we played all year,” Miami coach Jim Morris said.
Added veteran Florida State Mike Martin: “They’re for real, baby.”
Now they’re ready to get into postseason play and begin pursuing of their third straight College World Series appearance and fourth since 2007, McDonnell’s first year. It’s a safe bet they’ll receive one of the top-eight national seeds next week in the NCAA Tournament.
Winning it all “is a goal of ours, but it was a goal of ours in the Big East, it was a goal of ours in the American (Athletic Conference) and it’s a goal of ours in the ACC,” McDonnell said.
Some other things to watch this week at Durham Bulls Athletic Park:
HOT HURRICANES: Surging Miami (42-13, 22-8) comes to Durham as the ACC’s hottest team, riding a 12-game winning streak. Miami’s George Iskenderian leads the ACC with 78 hits while David Thompson is tops in the league with 15 home runs and 68 RBIs. They’ve come a long way since losing two of three to Louisville in early March. “We’re going into the league (tournament) right where you want to be,” Morris said.
HUMBLED HEELS: North Carolina has fallen from potential NCAA Tournament host to a second straight ACC play-in game. The Tar Heels (32-22) ended the season with consecutive sweeps against Virginia and Notre Dame — the first time that’s happened to them since 2001 — to slip to the No. 8 seed and will face ninth-seeded Virginia Tech on Tuesday. “We’re in somewhat familiar territory,” coach Mike Fox said, “which is probably not a good thing.”
MORE FAMILIAR TERRITORY: Tenth-seeded Georgia Tech is also in a second straight play-in game, but the Yellow Jackets’ results have been better: They won the opener last year, went 2-1 in pool play to earn a spot in the title game, then beat Maryland for their second championship in three years and ninth overall.
TIGERS ON THE BUBBLE?: Clemson coach Jack Leggett says his fifth-seeded Tigers (31-25) are an NCAA Tournament team. They’ve won seven of eight and are coming off a sweep at Florida State — the Seminoles’ first three-game sweep in their ballpark since 2006. They’ve got a definite ace in Friday night starter Matthew Crownover, a junior left-hander who leads the ACC in wins (9), ERA (1.43) and innings pitched (88). “Do I think we have to do anything specific?” Leggett said. “Just keep on winning.”
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