Wake Forest sweeps series with Duke

The Demon Deacons are now ranked No. 23 in the NCAA by Baseball America


Courtesy of Wake Forest Athletics

The team celebrates a Friday night win over Duke.

Essex Thayer, Sports Editor

 For the first time in their 2022 ACC campaign, Wake Forest baseball was able to finish the job. Following a series in which the Demon Deacons could not close out the third game to sweep their opponents, Wake Forest returned to Couch Ballpark in Winston-Salem and did just that against Duke, never winning by fewer than three runs.

Following the series sweep, Baseball America ranked the Demon Deacons No. 23 in the country, yet the NCAA rankings have yet to give credence to a team that is 25-7 and ranked No. 14 in the RPI.

On Friday, a 5-2 win, sophomore starting pitcher Rhett Lowder put forth what might be his best performance in ACC play this season, going seven innings with only two runs earned. The Wake Forest bullpen followed Lowder by closing the door with two hitless innings.

“We needed a good start from Rhett, and he came through for us,” Wake Forest Head Coach Tom Walter said after the game. “I was really happy with Rhett this evening. He did a nice job keeping [Duke] off the basepaths for the majority of the night.”

In a 6-3 Saturday victory, the Demon Deacons bullpen was once again dominant. After a five-inning, two-earned-run performance by freshman starter Josh Hartle, the bullpen did not allow a run over the last four innings.

In the series-sweeping 16-11 win on Sunday, the Wake Forest bats were the star of the show. The Demon Deacons hit four home runs in the game, one each from sophomore Brock Wilken, freshman Nick Kurtz, redshirt junior Brendan Tinsman and redshirt sophomore Adam Cecere.

“It’s great to get a win and certainly great to get a sweep,” Walter said after the win. “It was good to see Brock have a big day with his big three-run homer and then his two-out RBI there. The two-out RBIs [in the eighth inning] from Tommy Hawke and Brock were huge.”

For the first four-and-a-half innings on Friday, Lowder and Duke starting pitcher Marcus Johnson pitched flawlessly, holding their respective opponents scoreless. Lowder was especially impressive, not allowing a Blue Devil hit until the fourth inning.

In the bottom of the fourth, though, Wake Forest finally broke through. With Wilken on third and Cecere on first, sophomore Jake Reinisch knocked a single to deep right field, bringing in both baserunners and giving the Demon Deacons a 2-0 lead.

Camden Minacci closed the first two games of the series with no-hit innings. (Courtesy of Wake Forest Athletics)

In their next inning at bat, Wake Forest added to their lead. After Kurtz bunted on base and Wilken got on with a single, redshirt junior Michael Turconi homered to right field, extending his team’s lead to five.

Despite a run in the sixth inning and a solo home run in the seventh, both allowed by Lowder, sophomore Crawford Wade and sophomore closer Camden Minacci each pitched a hitless inning to secure the Wake Forest win. The victory gave the Demon Deacons their best 30-game start since 2006. After the game, Walter was complimentary of what he felt was a full-team effort.

“This is what Friday night ACC baseball is,” Walter said. “You’ve got to hit it, pitch it and catch it, and we did that tonight.”

As opposed to the previous evening, both teams jumped on their respective opponents early in the game. In the first inning, Duke got on the scoreboard because of poor defensive play by Wake Forest. Following a game-opening walk, the baserunner stole second base and reached third on a passed ball. 

 Then, the Blue Devil scored on a fielder’s choice.

In the bottom of the inning, though, Wake Forest hit right back. With one out and a runner on third, Tinsman hit a sacrifice fly to center field, bringing home Kurtz to even the score. In the top of the second, Duke retook the lead with a two-run home run. From there, the Demon Deacons did not allow another run.

Trailing by two, Wake Forest cut its deficit in half in the second inning. With redshirt sophomore Pierce Bennett on first base, Kurtz doubled to center field, bringing the runner all the way home. In the next inning, Wake Forest tied the game when Reinisch doubled home freshman Chris Katz. Then, they took a 4-3 lead when Reinisch himself was brought home by a Kurtz single.

In the fourth inning, the Demon Deacons doubled their lead with a solo home run by Tinsman. Wake Forest added their sixth and final run in the seventh inning, when freshman Danny Corona scored fellow freshman Tommy Hawke on a sacrifice fly to deep center field.

“It’s always good to win a series in this league,” Walter said of the team’s third ACC series win. “It’s hard to do.”

Wake Forest took control of the series-clinching game early on Sunday. In the first inning, the Demon Deacons recorded their first run on a Tinsman sacrifice fly, scoring Kurtz. Then, with Turconi on third base, Reinisch singled, extending Wake Forest’s lead to two.

In the third inning, Wake Forest seemingly blew open the game, scoring six runs. With Cecere and Reinisch on base, Bennett doubled to left field, scoring the first baserunner. Then, a Corona single advanced Bennett and scored Reinisch. After Kurtz brought home Bennett, Wilken ignited the Wake Forest dugout with a three-run home run to right field, giving the Demon Deacons an 8-0 lead.

In the sixth inning, Duke got itself on the board with two runs, but Wake Forest immediately responded in the next half inning with three of their own, all coming on a Tinsman home run.

In the seventh inning, both teams knocked balls out of the park. After a solo shot from the Blue Devils in the top of the inning, Kurtz responded with a solo home run himself, giving Wake Forest a 12-3 lead.

In the eighth inning, Duke made their final push at a comeback, scoring seven runs, four of which came on a grand slam. But, Wake Forest increased their lead with a four-run bottom half of the inning which included a Cecere home run and 2-RBI doubles by Hawke and Wilken.

Despite one run scored in the ninth, the Wake Forest lead proved to be too large for Duke, and Wade closed out the game.

After the game, Walter was pleased that Wade could finish the game and quash a furious late-game comeback attempt by the Blue Devils.

“We would have gone to [closing pitcher Cam] Minacci if we had to, but we certainly didn’t want to,” Walter said. “You know they were going to keep fighting. [I’m] just glad we didn’t have to go to Cam.”

The series sweep moves Wake Forest to 9-6 in the ACC, good for third place in the Atlantic division. The team will remain in Winston-Salem this weekend to face the struggling Clemson Tigers with hopes of securing a fourth series victory.