The Wake Forest baseball team started their 2017 campaign on the road in Houston, Texas on Feb. 17.
The Demon Deacons won the opener 5-0 against Nicholls State with a complete-game shutout by senior pitcher Connor Johnstone. Johnstone finished with six strikeouts and only allowed one hit. Offensively, Stuart Fairchild led the charge with a three-run homer.
Unfortunately, the Demon Deacons dropped the next three contests to Houston, Nicholls State and Houston, respectively. Pitching and defense were challenges for the Deacs, leading to three straight losses.
Looking to end the losing streak, the Deacs returned home to face UNC-Greensboro on Tuesday Feb. 28 and the University of Southern California over the weekend. The offense came alive against UNCG, scoring 15 runs behind a huge game from Jonathan Pryor.
The Deacs trailed 3-2 going into the third inning before the offense erupted for six runs. John McCarren and Drew Loepprich provided quality innings between the third and seventh while the offense continued to tally runs against UNCG’s pitching.
Pryor finished his day 5-5 with a double, home run and five RBIs, while Fairchild added two hits including another home run. The final score was 15-8 for the home-opener at David F. Couch Ballpark.
The weekend was another test for the team. The Deacs welcomed the Trojans of USC into town. The Deacs continued to be impressive offensively, led by a historic performance by first baseman Gavin Sheets. With three home-runs and nine RBIs, Sheets tied Wake Forest records for a series in both categories. In addition to Sheets’ home-runs, Pryor, Fairchild and John Aiello added home-runs to tie another Wake Forest record of six home-runs in one game. Parker Dunshee had a strong start on the mound striking out nine batters in 5.2 innings to earn the win. McCarren and Morgan McSweeney added scoreless innings out of the bullpen. The Deacs claimed the opener 15-5.
The Trojans would return with a strong performance on Saturday, taking advantage of walks and errors by the Deacs. The offense continued its success scoring nine runs on 10 hits. The Trojans added 10 hits along with two errors, two hit batters and 10 walks to score 15 runs.
In the rubber match on Sunday, the Deacs fell behind early due to a pair of first inning home runs by the Trojans. Donnie Sellers would settle down allowing just four runs on four hits and a walk with five strikeouts in 5.2 innings to earn the win. The Deacs were strong out of the bullpen with scoreless innings from Holden White, Chris Farish and Griffin Roberts.
The highlight of the game was the 11-run 3rd inning produced by the Deacs resulting from eight hits, five of which were doubles. Bruce Steele added a three- run homer to jump-start the Deacs to a 4-3 lead and the runs started pouring in after that. Steele’s home run was his first hit since 2015 because of a 2016 season-ending injury. Jake Mueller had a strong offensive performance with three hits and scoring four runs. Fairchild also added another home run to bring his total to three on the season. The final score was 18-5 in favor of the Deacs to claim the series.