Wake Forest’s offense showed up in style and starter Connor Johnstone pieced together 7.2 innings of three run, ten hit ball to lead the Deacs to a 11-3 win over UMBC in the Deacons’ opener in the Winston-Salem subregional.
Johnstone worked around a leadoff single and a hit batter in the first inning to retire the side by striking out UMBC’s top hitter Hunter Dolshun to end the frame. Retrievers’ starter Michael Austin got off to a solid start for the underdogs, putting the Deacs down in order.
Johnstone came out looking sharp in the second with a quick 1-2-3 inning of his own, getting two ground balls and a strikeout to keep the score 0-0 heading to the home half of the inning.
Gavin Sheets recorded Wake’s first hit of the game with a sharply hit ball up the middle and Ben Breazeale smoked a ground-rule double to center-right field to put two on with nobody out. Johnny Aiello grounded out to the shortstop to bring in Sheets for Wake’s first run of the game and Bruce Steel drilled a ball directly at Austin on the mound, who was only able to knock the ball down before throwing the ball into right field, scoring Ben and advancing Steel to second on the play.
Austin got Keegan Maronpot looking on a hard breaking ball for the second out of the inning before Harvey and Pryor both drew walks to load the bases with two outs. Mueller made the most of his opportunity and scored everyone with a sharply hit double down the line to push the lead up to 5-0 bringing every Deacs in the lineup to the plate in the second. Fairchild followed it up with a double up the middle to score Mueller to make it 6-0, before Sheets flied out to deep center to end the six-run second inning.
UMBC got two runs back after a leadoff double from Raven Beeman and a bomb from leadoff hitter Andrew Casal over the left field wall cut the lead to 6-2 with one out in the top of the third. Johnstone struck out the next batter, before allowing a single, and then getting Dolshun to ground out to finish the UMBC half of the inning with the Deacs leading by four.
With Breazeale, Aiello, and Steel up, Wake quickly went down in order for the second time in the first three innings to end the third. Johnstone quickly sat the Retrievers down in the fourth, picking up his fifth strikeout, inducing a grounder, and a popup to shallow right to get out of the inning. Wake was again, unable to get anything going in the fourth and went down in order for the third time in the game still leading 6-2.
UMBC again opened an inning with a hit in the 5th with a single, but Johnstone was able to get three more quick outs to avoid any further damage and Wake continued to lead 6-2 headed into the home half.
Wake got two on with one out in the bottom half of the fifth but were unable to scrape across a run after a grounder resulted in a rundown between third and home and a strikeout allowed the Retrievers to escape still only down by four after Austin was removed from the game.
UMBC got a lead-off walk to start the 6th and an error at short by Steel on what should have been a double play and the Retrievers put two on with nobody out. A follow-up single to shallow right loaded the bases for the visiting team and brought the tying run up with still nobody out trailing 6-2. A sacrifice fly to center pushed across a third run for UMBC to cut the once six-run lead in half to 6-3. On a great play from First-Team All-American Ben Brezeale, a back pick got the runner at first after strike two to get the second out of the inning and then Maronpot gunned out the runner at home on a single to right to keep it a three-run game going into the bottom of the 6th.
Steel opened the bottom half with an impressive bunt down the left field line for an easy single and Maronpot followed it up with a single up the middle to put two on with nobody out. Harvey laid down the second great bunt of the inning and successfully moved the runners over on a sacrifice with the top of the order coming back up. Pryor then singled up the middle to score both baserunners and extended the lead to 8-3 to give the Deacs two more insurance runs. Mueller pieced together another hit through the right to put runners on the corners with still one out.
Fairchild then made the most of his opportunity with runners on by smoking one down the right field line to score the third run of the inning to push it to 9-3 with still one out and runners on second and third. Sheets flew out deep to the outfield again but didn’t quite get over the fence, scoring the runner from third to get the Deacs to double digit runs. UMBC finally got out of the inning but not before Wake was able to strike for four, stretching the lead to seven runs with nine outs to go.
Johnstone came back out for the seventh and worked around a two-out single to get through the inning with the Deacs still leading 10-3. Aiello opened the seventh with a hard single to right for Wake’s 12th hit of the game. Steel went down on strikes and Maronpot walked to put two on with one out but Maronpot was picked off for the second out on an attempted double steal at second before Harvey drove in Steel from third to push it to 11-3. Pryor smoked a ground rule double out to left on a woefully misplayed ball from Beeman but the ground rule held Harvey at third to keep it a nine-run game before Fairchild grounded out to second to end the 7th.
Johnstone again returned for the eighth, entering with 93 pitches. UMBC began the eighth by grounding out to short before a single got through the left side and a sharply hit infield single back up the middle got away from Johnstone on the mound to put two on with one out. Pryor caught a deep ball to left for the second out of the inning and Johnstone came out to a standing ovation with 7.2 innings under his belt, yielding way to Morgan McSweeney who struck out Collin Stack putting Wake three outs away from a winner’s bracket matchup with West Virginia.
Wake quickly went down in the eighth without doing any damage before McSweeney returned to the mound for the ninth inning. McSweeney struck out Beeman to start the inning before getting a grounder to short for the second out. He gave up a single to right before getting a ground out to third to finish the game.
The top four batters of the Deacon lineup went a combined 8-17 with five runs and eight runs batted in to support the Wake offense. This was all-in-all an impressive performance for the Wake bats without any home runs, which in my opinion is a great sign moving forward this weekend.
With the win Wake advances to the winner’s bracket against West Virginia at 7 p.m. tomorrow in Winston-Salem. We will have coverage of the game tomorrow starting with a preview. What a night to be a Wake fan! If you have any questions or comments let us know and as always, go Deacs!