With two NCAA Tournament baseball games already in the books, both from the Palo Alto Regional, Friday technically marks the second day of the opening weekend but it is still effectively day one, as every single regional sees play today.
In Winston-Salem, the host and 14th ranked Wake Forest Demon Deacons are prepared to host their first regional in 15 years. Play gets started at 2 p.m. when West Virginia takes on Maryland. The nightcap will pit the Diamond Deacs against the America East automatic qualifier, UMBC.
Earlier this week we had an overview of the teams in the region and a detailed look at what to expect from UMBC in the opener for Wake, so check those articles out if you are curious about the challenge that the Retrievers pose to the Deacs in the opener.
Fans of Wake, and just college baseball in general, who are around the Winston-Salem area should get out to the park today and support the Deacs. If you can’t make it to the early game that’s certainly understandable, but a 7 p.m. first pitch time for Wake-UMBC is a perfect way to start the weekend.
All of the games this weekend, both in Winston and across the country, are available on Watch ESPN. This will allow out-of-town fans of the Deacs to indulge in their post-season college baseball love and cheer on Wake from anywhere. Similarly, Watch ESPN will offer a whiparound channel, similar to Goalline or Red Zone, where you can stay updated on all the latest scores and action occurring across the NCAA field.
Although weather was potentially a concern earlier in the week, with late-afternoon thunderstorm threats possible, it appears that tonight will be a gorgeous day for baseball in North Carolina. It should be sunny and around 80 degrees at first pitch.
Wake Forest will send pitcher Connor Johnstone (7-0, 3.46 ERA) to the mound in the opener, where he will square off against Michael Austin (4-2, 4.21 ERA) from UMBC. Austin has received some attention from pro scouts and is likely the best arm that the Retrievers have to offer.
This will be Johnstone’s 14th start of the year, but his first in two weeks, as he did not appear in a game at the ACC Tournament. The last outing against Pittsburgh saw Johnstone go 3.1 innings, allowing seven hits and three runs while walking one and striking out two. Johnstone also went 3.1 innings two starts ago against Florida State. Teams are hitting a meager .239 against him on the season.
The Deacs are 10-3 overall in games that Johnstone has started, with the offense averaging 8 runs per game in his starts - tops for the three weekend starters. With a win in tonight’s game, Johnstone would be 8-0 and move into solo third in Wake history with the most wins in a single season without a loss.
On a more general note, a special congratulations go out to Ben Breazeale, Stuart Fairchild, and Gavin Sheets for their inclusion on the Collegiate Baseball All-American list. Breazeale and Fairchild were named First-Team All-Americans, while Stuart Fairchild made the third team. The three appearances by Wake players was tied for the most in the nation.
Win or lose, the Deacs will take the field again on Saturday against the winner/loser of the West Virginia-Maryland contest. Saturday will follow the same schedule as today, with the first game (elimination game between today’s losing teams) at 2 p.m. and the second game (matchup of today’s winners) at 7 p.m. As a reminder, the tournament is double elimination and Wake will advance to the Super Regionals if they can rattle off three consecutive wins starting today.
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about this weekend or what to expect from the regional please let us know below. Similarly, this thread will operate as a general NCAA observation thread for today, as well as a gamethread for the Diamond Deacs once they are underway.
It’s an exciting day to be a fan of the Wake Forest baseball team, let’s enjoy it, and as always, go Deacs!