The Wake Forest baseball team, led by manager Tom Walter, swept through their first four games of the year - all from the friendly confines in Winston-Salem. Wake knocked off Georgetown, UMBC, and VMI over the weekend and then returned to action Tuesday to come from behind and beat in-state rival Davidson to remain undefeated. They now travel across the country to face the USC Trojans, who are ranked 20th in this week's Coaches Poll despite a rocky start at 2-2.
The Deacs beat the Georgetown Hoyas 3-1 in the opener last Friday behind a stellar pitching performance from starter Parker Dunshee. Dunshee threw six scoreless innings and struck out eight while only allowing four hits and no walks, while the bullpen allowed only one run over the remaining nine outs to secure the victory for Wake.
Notably, freshman Johnny Aiello made some noise in his collegiate debut hitting two home runs and walking twice from the two spot to help fuel the Demon Deacon offense. Righty closer Donnie Sellers came in to seal the deal and recorded his first save of the year by facing five batters and retiring them all.
Wake returned to David F. Couch Ballpark on Saturday (affectionately now known as "The Couch") to face off against 1-1 UMBC, and despite giving up four runs in the first inning, roared back to win the game 10-8 behind a solid day at the plate for the bulk of the Demon Deacon offense.
Preseason All-American and reigning ACC Player of the Year Will Craig bounced back from an 0-3 start at the plate in the opener to drive in four runs on a 2-3 day at the plate, including a three-run blast in the second to give the Deacs a 6-4 lead which they would never relinquish.
Despite a rocky beginning for starter Connor Johnstone, he recovered to pitch 6.1 innings, allowing five runs on eight hits to secure the second consecutive win for the Diamond Deac starting pitchers. Left fielder Kevin Conway also had a solid day at the plate batting eighth, as he went 3-4 with two doubles and a run batted in. Will Craig made a surprising appearance in the 9th with the Deacs leading 10-8 and put down the Retrievers in order, needing only 12 pitches to secure his first save of the year and push the Deacs to 2-0 on the season.
Fresh off a 2-0 start, Wake entered Sunday against VMI full of confidence and despite falling behind again early 2-0 were able to rebound to and push their win streak to three by a final 8-4 margin. Nate Mondou and Will Craig gave the nation a little taste of what they can expect from the middle of the Deacon lineup as they drove in seven of the eight Wake runs from the three and four spots in the lineup. Mondou, a preseason second-team All American, went 2-4 at the plate with 3 RBIs and a home run (his first of the season), while Craig's bat stayed hot from the UMBC game, going 3-4 with 4 RBIs and his second home run of the year - another three-run shot on an 0-2 count that he hammered over the right field wall.
Sophomore Drew Loepprich got the start (even though Will Craig was the projected starter at the outset of the weekend series) and gave up on five hits and two runs in seven innings. Loepprich was credited with the win as he left the game with a 7-2 lead and the Demon Deacon starters moved to three for three in the win category on the young season.
Donnie Sellers came on to face one batter in the ninth and struck him out on five pitches to record his second save of the season. Sellers will be the primary closer for the Deacs, but the usage of Craig in the second game of the season in a save situation will be something interesting to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
After an off day on Monday, Wake squared off against Davidson on Tuesday in rainy Winston-Salem and knocked the Wildcats off by a 7-4 score to complete a perfect 4-0 homestand to open the season. Freshman Rayne Supple made his first collegiate start but threw only 38 pitches over 2.1 innings while allowing three runs on one hit and three walks before he was replaced by John McCarren in the third inning.
Despite falling behind early for the third time in as many games, trailing 3-0 through three innings, the Demon Deacon bats came alive as Will Craig again posed a problem for opposing pitchers, going 2-4 at the plate with three RBIs. After an 0-3 start at the plate in the opener, Craig now has seven hits in his last eleven at bats and has driven in 11 of the 28 Demon Deacon runs on the young season.
First baseman Gavin Sheets also had a solid day at the plate with a 2-4 day with two RBIs and a solo shot in the sixth inning. The bullpen continued its hot start, allowing only one run on five hits over 6.1 innings of relief. Sellers came in for the final three outs in the ninth and gave up his first run of the year on two hits. Craig pitched the 8th, retiring all three batters he faced.
With the Deacs off to a fast 4-0 start, their attention now turns to the first non-conference road series against a Power 5 conference team since they played LSU in 2011. While the USC Trojans were ranked by four of the six major college baseball rankings, they surprisingly dropped the first two games of the season at home to North Dakota (who I quite frankly didn't even know had a D-I baseball team). They bounced back in the series finale to move to 1-2 and then knocked of Loyola Marymount in a tightly contested 4-3 affair on Tuesday night.
Despite the slow start for USC they pose a difficult road challenge for the Diamond Deacs but alternatively it provides Wake with an opportunity to secure an early season road win, or perhaps even a series win, to help bolster their postseason resume. While the season is a long one, these are chances the Deacs need to take advantage of if they want to be in the NCAA Regional discussion when conference play hits its stride.
Friday night's contest will begin at 9 P.M. Eastern and Parker Dunshee will get the ball in the series opener looking to move to 2-0 in the early season. USC will throw senior Kyle Davis against the Deacs Friday night who had a great opening day start against North Dakota allowing only one run on five hits in eight innings but ultimately took the loss as the Trojans were unable to scrape a single run across the plate.
The projected weekend starters for Wake will remain the same as the opening weekend with Johnstone slated to go on Saturday and Loepprich in line to get the start on Sunday. These games start at 5 P.M. and 4 P.M. respectively. Early indications seem to point towards these games being streamed for free from USC's website but it remains unclear if this will in fact be offered for free.
We will have a game thread up tomorrow afternoon for the weekend contest, so drop by and chat with us about Wake baseball as the Diamond Deacs take on nationally ranked USC in an intriguing early season tilt. If you have any questions, comments, analysis, or just want to banter about Wake baseball then drop a line below and as always, go Deacs!