After missing out in 2014, the Virginia Tech Hokies are back in the ACC Tournament as the number nine seed. However, their number nine seed means that they have to play in a play-in game against the eighth-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels for one of the two remaining spots in the pool play part of the ACC Tournament.
One unique coincidence with this matchup is that North Carolina was the last team the Hokies played in the ACC Tournament when they lost to the Tar Heels in the 2013 ACC Tournament final. Of course, most of both rosters have changed since these two last met in the ACC Tournament, but seniors like Brendon Hayden, Alex Perez, and Sean Keselica may use that as extra motivation.
When the two teams met at English Field earlier this season, the Hokies and Tar Heels split the first two games with Virginia Tech winning 8-3 in game one and UNC winning 11-10 in game two. The third game in the series was cancelled due to weather so in a way, this is kind of that third game except the stakes are much higher this time.
North Carolina will go with All-ACC Second Team pitcher Zac Gallen as their starter today while it seems likely that the Hokies will go with Kit Scheetz. Gallen is not a surprise for the Tar Heels as their ace while Scheetz is a slight surprise given that Keselica is the Hokies' ace though this may be a sign that his tired arm is becoming a bigger issue.
Scheetz has also made some progress over the latter part of the season and will definitely be ready to compete in this game should he get the start as expected. If Scheetz struggles early, don't be surprised if the Hokies get him out of there quickly with Jon Woodcock and Aaron McGarity being likely replacements out of the bullpen.
On paper, the Hokies have more high-end talent in their starting lineup while the Tar Heels have more depth though not by much. The 3-4-5 of Alex Perez, Brendon Hayden, and Erik Payne is arguably the best in the ACC with all three hitting over .310 on the season. This trio of hitters have caused plenty of teams issues and they will look to get to Gallen today.
Payne and Perez will also likely have a huge chip on their shoulder after getting shockingly snubbed from the All-ACC teams. Both of these guys have the potential to have big games and put the Hokies in a good position to advance to pool play.
The Hokies will need experience behind the plate in Andrew Mogg today, especially with the Tar Heels' speed on the base paths. Four North Carolina players have at least 10 stolen bases including sophomore outfielder Tyler Ramirez who has 17 stolen bases.
Ramirez is the Tar Heels' most dangerous offensive player as not only does he lead the Tar Heels in stolen bases, but he also is tied for the team lead in home runs (9) and RBIs (39) along with leading the Tar Heels in slugging percentage and on-base percentage among players with at least 100 at-bats.
If there is one player that could be an x-factor for the Hokies, it is Sean Keselica. Keselica has commonly been sixth in the order when he isn't pitching and against ACC competition, he has thrived with a .333 batting average in the 20 ACC games he wasn't on the mound for. Keselica provides some extra support for the Hokies' dangerous 3-4-5 that could cause North Carolina some problems. especially if Zac Gallen can't go the whole game.
This is going to be a hard-fought game, but the Hokies know that there only way to the NCAA Tournament is by winning the ACC Tournament. If Gallen goes eight or more innings, the Tar Heels will be hard to beat. However, the Hokies will get Gallen out early enough to make a late surge as they have done multiple times this season to win this game 7-6 and advance to the pool play stage of the 2015 ACC Tournament.