Baseball advances to the ACC Tournament semifinals

Wake Forest clinches Pool A with a 10-2 win over Pittsburgh


Courtesy of Wake Forest Athletics

Danny Corona (front center) celebrates with his teammates.

Aine Pierre, Online Managing Editor

Before the first pitch of Wake Forest’s first pool-play match in the ACC Tournament, there were a few concerns for the Demon Deacon faithful. One, Wake Forest had not played in almost a week, and their last game was a 14-6 loss against Virginia Tech. Two, since the inception of this format in 2017, a No. 1 seed had not advanced to the semifinals of the tournament.

The No. 1 team in the country put all of those concerns to bed in short order, scoring three runs in the first inning en route to a 10-2 victory over Pittsburgh. 

To secure a spot in the semifinals, the Demon Deacons looked to ace Rhett Lowder. The right-hander, despite not having his changeup (which Head Coach Tom Walter called his best pitch after the game), fanned six and only surrendered one run over seven innings for his 13th win of the season. After a one-out double by Pittsburgh’s Justin Acal in the second, Lowder did not allow a hit, and his final line after throwing 105 pitches was 7 IP, 3H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 HBP, 6K. 

“I don’t think I had my best stuff today…” Lowder said. “I came out slow…I expect better next weekend.”

Walter agreed that Lowder’s stuff may not have been his best, but he also noted that, as a coach, he will take seven innings of one-run ball “any day.”

Wake Forest, meanwhile, got to Pittsburgh starter Logan Evans early and often. The Demon Deacon bats brought in three runs in the first — via a Lucas Costello RBI double, a Justin Johnson sacrifice fly and a Pierce Bennett RBI single. Then, in the third inning, Brock Wilken added to his single-season school record with his 26th home run. Three batters later, with the score at 4-1, Bennett Lee hit a home run of his own to make the score 6-1. After the game, Walter referred to Lee’s home run as the biggest hit of the day.

“That’s what this team does,” Walter said. “We try to smother you with our pitching and defense and then get big hits.”

The Demon Deacon bats put up another run in the top of the fifth on another RBI single from Bennett. Then, Pittsburgh brought in Nash Bryan, who was lights out for three innings. Pittsburgh was able to get one run back off of Michael Massey in the bottom half of the eighth when Dom Popa hit a solo home run. With the score 7-2 in the top of the ninth, the Wake Forest bats came alive again. Danny Corona, who scored on Bennett Lee’s two-run shot in the third, hit one of his own. Finally, Tommy Hawke knocked an RBI single to right, scoring Marek Houston for the Demon Deacons’ 10th and final run.

Looking ahead

Because of the tournament format, Wake Forest’s pool-play game tomorrow night against Notre Dame does not have any meaning for deciding an ACC champion. In pool play, if all three teams go 1-1, the top seed (Wake Forest, in Pool A) advances. With a win today, Wake Forest secures at least a 1-1 record and ensures that the best any other team can do is a 1-1 pool-play record. Therefore, Wake Forest will automatically advance as the top seed in the pool regardless of the outcome against Notre Dame.

That does not mean that Wake Forest will not be looking for a win or playing their hardest. When asked about whether the ACC Tournament was all that important in the grand scheme of things, given the Demon Deacons’ national title hopes, Brock Wilken reminded reporters that these are the last games many Wake Forest players will have with each other.

“I don’t know if I can speak for anyone, but there are a lot of us who don’t have a lot of games together, and we want to cherish that…we’re not going to take any games for granted,” Wilken said.

Lowder added: “Taking stuff for granted, we learned after COVID to never do that again.”

Walter said that redshirt junior Reed Mascolo, the midweek starter, will get the nod against the Fighting Irish, followed by other arms in the bullpen that did not pitch today — Walter noted that “in no circumstances” will Michael Massey or Camden Minacci pitch tomorrow.

In the meantime, the Demon Deacons will prepare for their semifinal matchup with the Miami Hurricanes, who defeated N.C. State 4-2 tonight to win Pool D. Josh Hartle will start that game, which is scheduled for Saturday at 1 p.m.