Diamond Deacs don’t crack under pressure, sweep Clemson

Solid pitching and timely hitting lead the Demon Deacons to a three-win weekend


Courtesy of Wake Forest Athletics

Rhett Lowder delivers a pitch. The junior allowed one run in seven innings.

Avikar Khakh, Contributing Writer

Solid pitching and timely hitting were the recipe for success this past weekend for the Demon Deacons (26-3, 10-2) as they swept Clemson (16-3, 2-7).

The Demon Deacons were on the road against the Tigers at the Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson, S.C. The team began the three-game set on Thursday, starting junior Rhett Lowder (6-0) on the mound and going up against Clemson’s ace in Austin Gordon (0-2). 

In the first matchup, the Demon Deacons got off to a hot start with sophomore Nick Kurtz (10 HR in 2023) hitting a two-run blast to right field in the first inning to score himself and junior Lucas Costello for a 2-0 Wake Forest lead.

The runs piled up for the Demon Deacons in the fourth inning as redshirt junior Pierce Bennett hit a double to right center field, allowing junior Brock Wilken to score after a Clemson error. The very next at-bat, redshirt junior Justin Johnson brought himself and Bennett home to score with a home run to left field to take a 5-0 lead.

It wasn’t until the sixth inning that the Tigers were able to score a couple of runs off Lowder as they cut the Demon Deacons’ lead to 5-2. However, in the eighth inning, sophomore Chris Katz blasted a pinch-hit, three-run home run to extend the lead to 8-2.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Clemson managed to tally one more run, but the Demon Deacons’ lead held, and they took the first game of the series.

The second meeting brought a much closer, more competitive game. The Demon Deacons’ bats stayed active at the start of the game as Costello brought in two runs in the first two innings combined, from a home run in the first followed by an RBI single scoring sophomore Gio Cueto in the second. 

Kyle Joye greets Justin Johnson as he heads to the dougout. (Courtesy of Wake Forest Athletics)

On the mound, the Demon Deacons had another great arm in sophomore Sean Sullivan (4-1) who shut down the Clemson offense in the first three innings of the game, giving up zero runs. However, in the fourth inning, the Tigers were able to string together some positive at-bats and eventually put two runs on the board to tie the game. With the bases loaded for Clemson in the sixth inning, junior Seth Keener replaced Sullivan on the mound, who exited the game with a final stat line of five innings pitched, five hits and five strikeouts. Keener eventually got out of the sixth inning struggle while only giving up one run, off a sacrifice fly to center field. That run gave Clemson its first lead of the game, 3-2.

In the eighth inning, the Demon Deacons were able to tie the game after Costello scored Tommy Hawke on a sacrifice bunt. In the ninth inning, Wake Forest got the chance to take the lead, and they did. Johnson hit an RBI single, scoring Wilken and giving the Demon Deacons the 4-3 lead. In the final half inning, junior Camden Minacci came in to relieve Keener to put the game away, in which he successfully recorded three outs, while also achieving a strikeout in the inning. 

Going into the third game, the Demon Deacons looked toward getting the sweep on yet again another in-conference team, as they started sophomore Josh Hartle (6-1) on the mound. In this final game of the three-game set, the Tigers struck first in the third inning off an RBI single, giving them the 1-0 lead. The Demon Deacons responded swiftly in the fourth inning as Bennett launched a two-run double, scoring Wilken and Kurtz, giving his team the 2-1 lead. Wake Forest continued to add to their lead, scoring a singular run in each of the next three innings, as Kurtz, Katz and Costello each had an RBI to give the Demon Deacons a 5-1 lead. 

In the eighth inning, Massey was put on the mound to relieve Hartle, who ended his afternoon with an impressive seven innings pitched, five hits and eight strikeouts. Massey gave up a single run in the eighth inning, but the Demon Deacons made up for that run fast in the ninth inning, when Hawke scored off a Clemson fielding error. 

In the bottom half of the ninth inning, with Minacci back on the mound, the Tigers began to rally as they hit a home run followed by a two-run double to cut the Demon Deacons’ lead to 6-5. Ultimately, Cole Roland had to take over the mound to help the Demon Deacons recover. Roland was able to achieve the last out of the game, and the Demon Deacons completed their sweep against the Tigers. 

After a big weekend against Clemson, Wake Forest came out on top with a three-game sweep. They then dropped a midweek game to Elon and now look forward to this upcoming week with another three-game series at David F. Couch Ballpark starting Friday against in-conference rival NC State.