Controversial call leads to Demon Deacon victory in game 1


Cooper Sullivan

Rhett Lowder was the Demon Deacons’ highest pick in the draft, going to the Cincinnati Reds in the first round.

Note: The first pitch was delayed from noon to 2:15 p.m. after ESPN producer Kyle Brown died before the game. The Old Gold & Black’s thoughts and prayers are with Brown’s family and loved ones.

Emotions were running as high as the thermometer Saturday afternoon at the first game of the Winston-Salem Super Regional. 

No matter which school colors fans were wearing, there was always an excuse to be heated at what unfolded on the field. It wasn’t uncommon that the emotion carried into the stands. The postgame skirmish between two opposing fans along the first baseline seemed inevitable after Wake Forest narrowly, and questionably, beat Alabama 5-4. 

In a matchup where one of the most accomplished pitchers in Wake Forest history won his 15th game of the season, where six home runs were hit, where only one batter was walked, where “the best two teams in the country” were both playing impeccable baseball, it was the umpires’ calls, or lack thereof, that were the focus of the day.

“Check swings are tough calls,” Alabama interim head coach Jason Jackson said. “Those guys got a tough job on that. From where we’re at in the dugout — I mean he’s got a better view than I do — but obviously we thought that was strike three.”

Frankly, Jackson could have been referring to numerous points in the game, but this one in particular ended up winning the game for Wake Forest.

Going into the top of the fifth, the scoreboard was even at three a piece. Both centerfielder Tommy Hawke and second baseman Justin Johnson homered to start the first and second innings off. Shortly after Johnson’s trip around the bases, right fielder Pierce Bennett made one of his own thanks to crafty base-running and a wild pitch leaving home plate right open. 

Wake Forest celebrates a Tommy Hawke leadoff home run. (Cooper Sullivan)

The sold-out Couch was rocking, Rhett Lowder had just gotten himself out of two rocky innings, and things were looking super for the number one team in the nation. Then awoke the Bama bats. A home run by Caden Rose in the third and a two-run homer by Colby Shelton in the fourth had brought the game back to a tie.

“I didn’t have my best stuff,” Lowder said after his outing. “I kind of was trying to make big pitches, like Coach said. I was just mixing it up. I think two pitches really hurt me on the day but you know, kind of battled through that.”

Even if the Wake Forest ace wasn’t the most satisfied with his work, it was clear that the only way Alabama would be able to score would be to capitalize on mistakes and send them out of the stadium. Same would be the case for the home team. After Bennett’s single, the Crimson Tide had retired 10 of the next 12 Demon Deacon batters. Then Danny Corona stepped up to the plate. 

What should have been a three-pitch strikeout turned into a four-pitch fourth run for Wake Forest after designated hitter Corona clobbered an inside pitch over the right field wall. The crowd erupted as Corona shuffled his way into the dugout putting the Demon Deacons on top. 

At this point, Alabama hitting coach Matt Reida was making his way to the field. An argument with one of the umpires about whether Corona’s bat had crossed the third baseline on the pitch prior ended up being fairly brief as the coach was tossed from the game. Wake Forest fans heckled as Reida took his time making his way behind the outfield fences. But should he have even been ejected?

“When it happened live, I thought [Corona] probably went,” said Wake Forest manager Tom Walter. “But nobody’s got a better view of it than the third-base umpire.”

Video replay after the at-bat showed Corona’s wrists flexing forward and a grimace on the sophomore’s face.

Lowder and reliever Sean Sullivan both dealt with shifted strike zones and close calls themselves, but they took it as part of the game. 

“Sometimes [calls] go your way, and sometimes they don’t. I guess they did today,” Lowder said. “You can’t really harp on it, you can’t blame anything. You just gotta make the next pitch.”