Evan Harris

Wake Forest celebrates a Nick Kurtz grand slam in Friday’s game against Youngstown State.

Baseball goes 4-0 in its opening homestand

The 'Diamond Deacs' notch dominating wins against Youngstown State and Illinois

February 21, 2023

Wake Forest opened its season this weekend with a four-game slate — two each against the Youngstown State (YSU) Penguins and the Illinois Fighting Illini. The Demon Deacons won all four of their games, outscoring their opponents 45-8 and striking out 60 of the 102 batters they faced.

“Any time you win four games in a weekend, that’s a good weekend,” Head Coach Tom Walter said after the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader.

Wake Forest will travel Tuesday to take on UNC Greensboro, which made it to the super-regional round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. That game will start at 4 p.m.

“It’s our first time on grass, our first time on the road,” Walter said. “Life’s a little different when you’re on the road.”

For now, though, the team is excited. 

“We know that every single game is important, and we value every single game,” Wake Forest LF Adam Cecere said. “We feel really good about what’s happened so far.”


Courtesy of Wake Forest Athletics

Brock Wilken and Nick Kurtz embrace during Sunday’s game against the Illini.

Demon Deacons outfight the Illini

The Illinois Fighting Illini were like a deer in headlights when they came up against preseason All-American Rhett Lowder in the Saturday afternoon contest.

The junior, from Albemarle, N.C., had a shaky first inning after letting up a two-out RBI single to Illini left fielder Ryan Moerman, which scored one run. Escaping with men on base, Lowder would prove to be his dominant self in the coming innings.

Though Illini starting pitcher Jack Crowder retired the side in the bottom of the first, in the second, he struggled with command against the likes of Jake Reinisch, Bennett Lee and Adam Cecere, each of whom walked consecutively. After a Danny Corona strikeout, Crowder found himself in the danger zone yet again, plunking Justin Johnson to bring in a run. A putout at first base would strand multiple runners on base, and the two sides would head into the third knotted at one run apiece.

Eventually, Lowder found his rhythm and threw four scoreless frames to complete his outing. He also struck out 10 Illini while only walking one.

“The biggest thing I learned [this weekend] was that our pitching has a chance to be really good,” Head Coach Tom Walters said after Sunday’s second game.  

Lowder for Wake Forest and Crowder for Illinois traded zeroes until the bottom of the fifth. Ty Rybarczyk, who relieved Crowder, walked two straight batters. A Lucas Costello sacrifice bunt put runners on second and third with one out. Each of them would score on a Lee single to centerfield, putting the Demon Deacons up two. Cecere would then follow up Lee’s RBI single with a home run to left field. Wake Forest now led 5-1. 

Two more home runs would increase the Demon Deacon advantage to 8-1, a 362-foot solo shot from Kurtz — his third of four home runs on the weekend and a Wilken two-run blast that traveled 414 feet.

The bullpen backed up Lowder in a big way, thanks to four incredible frames from Sean Sullivan. Sullivan, who struck out 10 batters, would be named ACC Pitcher of the Week due to his performance in the game. 

Sunday’s matchup, the second of a split-team doubleheader, saw sophomore left-hander Josh Hartle take the mound. Hartle, who was a regular starter for the Demon Deacons last season, is looking to improve upon a 2022 campaign in which he pitched nearly 70 innings while fanning 54 batters last year.

After Hartle struck out seven through the first three frames, he faltered slightly when Fighting Illini right fielder Cam McDonald snuck a solo home run down the right-field line in the top of the fourth. Hartle would get out of the inning after a flyout to center from Harding, and it would be the only run that the Illini would score all day.

Rake Forest was on full display Sunday, and the scoring started early for the Demon Deacons as they saw solo home runs in consecutive innings, each of which was hit to left center field. Bennett would send a 376-foot blast in the first, while Cecere followed that up with a 400-foot moonshot as the leadoff hitter in the second. Cecere homered again — his fourth — in the bottom of the seventh, an absolute rocket that traveled 424 feet. Kurtz, who would be named the ACC Player of the Week for this weekend’s performance, also notched his fourth home run of the weekend in the home fifth. Justin Johnson joined the party for his first home run in a Demon Deacon uniform in the eighth to round out a 10-run, five-homer game for the Demon Deacons.

In the last appearance at the plate for the Fighting Illini, they had to go against Demon Deacon closer Camden Minacci, who would strike out three of five batters and not allow a run to score, allowing the game to result in a 10-1 victory for the Demon Deacons.

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Evan Harris

Piece Bennett crosses the plate to score the Demon Deacons’ first run of the season.

Wake Forest’s bats mash Youngstown State

The Demon Deacons faced Youngstown State twice, once on Friday to open the season and in the first game of a morning-afternoon doubleheader on Sunday (the second game was against the Illinois Fighting Illini). Wake Forest won Friday’s game 9-3 — the closest game of the weekend for the Demon Deacons — and mercy-ruled YSU Sunday morning 18-3.

In Friday’s game, Wake Forest jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a Jake Reinsich sacrifice fly. The Demon Deacons never looked back, adding on six runs in the second inning off a Cecere solo shot, a Pierce Bennett RBI walk and a Nick Kurtz grand slam. 

Rake Forest did not stop there, as Kurtz homered again down the right-field line in the fourth inning to extend the lead to 8-0. Both Cecere and Kurtz hit four home runs over the weekend, and they both sit at the top of the Division I home-run race.

 A Bennett single in the bottom of the seventh plated the Demon Deacons’ ninth and final run.

The Demon Deacon pitching staff also had an impressive debut. Seth Keener, Friday’s starter, scattered a hit and a walk over five scoreless frames while striking out eight Penguins. The Penguins scored three off Joe Ariola in the top of the eighth inning, but otherwise, the bullpen was lights out. 

Wake Forest got off to a bit of a sleepy start after an 8:30 a.m. first-pitch time in Sunday’s game. Michael Massie gave up a two-run home run to Brae O’Shaughnessey in the first and a solo shot to Andre Good in the second. 

The Demon Deacons started to wake up in the home half of the second, and by the third, the score was even at three. Then, Wake Forest’s bats exploded in the fourth, sending 20 batters to the dish and plating 12 runs. After a Brock Wilkin three-run shot, the remaining nine runs came from keeping the line moving through walks and base hits.

After Youngstown State plated its third run, the Wake Forest pitching staff shut the Penguin lineup down, recording 18 outs while only allowing two hits. Derek Crum, Chase Walter and Ben Shenosky each tossed a scoreless frame out of the bullpen and combined for five of Wake Forest’s nine strikeouts. 

Under the NCAA’s mercy rule, both managers can agree to end the game if a team is winning by more than 10 runs, and the losing team has had at least seven innings at the plate. As a result, Sunday’s game ended after the top of the seventh inning, allowing Wake Forest an hour-long intermission between games. 

Youngstown State, which lost all four of its games, will travel to Memphis for a four-game set. The Penguins will not play in their home ballpark until mid-March.

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