CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- When is the third seed in a four-team tournament to be feared?
The seventh annual ACC tournament will be held at Fetzer Field tonight and Sunday, and North Carolina is the only team ever to have won the affair. Top seed Virginia meets Duke in tonight's first semifinal at 6 p.m., and after a 30-minute break, the Tar Heels play Maryland.
The championship game will be played Sunday (1 p.m.)
"You feel for Dick Edell," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said of his Maryland counterpart. "Maryland's having a great season, they're coming off an emotional game against Johns Hopkins, and their next game is against the Heels at their place, in a tournament they've owned."
Eighth-ranked North Carolina lost, 13-12, at Maryland on March 25, its fourth one-goal game in a two-week span, and dropped to No. 11 in the USILA rankings, the first time since 1980 that North Carolina dropped out of the Top 10. The Tar Heels have since lost to top-ranked Johns Hopkins and No. 2 Virginia by a combined seven goals.
Edell, the Maryland coach, figures that his third-ranked Terps need to beat North Carolina to secure one of the NCAA's four first-round byes, which would give them the home-field advantage for the NCAA tournament, since the Final Four will be played at Byrd Stadium May 27 and 29.
"There are too many scenarios to consider," Edell said, "but [fifth-ranked] Princeton will probably win out the rest of the way and Syracuse could do the same. If we want to stay ahead of them, this next game is critical."
Maryland hasn't had a top four seed since 1989, when the tournament was also held at Byrd Stadium and the Terps lost to Syracuse in the semifinals.
They could have taken a big step toward that goal against Hopkins, but goalie Jonathan Marcus stopped several shots in the last minute after a Terps timeout, and Terry Riordan scored in transition with 12 seconds left for a 16-15 win that kept the Blue Jays unbeaten and ranked No. 1.
"I can't remember when a game hurt inside like that one did," Edell said. "We managed that final time out about as badly as we could. You walk away from that with confidence that you can play with anyone in the country, but by the same token, you're bitter you didn't do better in a situation you could have won."
Regardless of what happens at Fetzer Field this weekend, the ACC figures to send all four of its teams to the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years. In six ACC games this spring, the biggest margin of victory came when North Carolina beat Duke, 13-8.