A day after a convincing 11-3 Friday night victory over the UMBC Retrievers to open up NCAA play in Winston-Salem, the 14th ranked Wake Forest Demon Deacons will be back out to David F. Couch Ballpark on Saturday night taking on a formidable West Virginia team at 7 p.m. The Mountaineers (35-24) took care of business themselves on Friday afternoon, smacking the ball all over the ball park with six home runs en route to a 9-1 domination of third-seeded Maryland.
The NCAA appearance for West Virginia is their first in 21 years and the Mountaineer faithful brought a solid contingency to Winston-Salem yesterday to give the Couch a distinctive home-field feel for the program. While a lot of the focus in the region has been on the power of the Wake Forest bats and its prodigious offense, West Virginia looked to shift the narrative and get in on some deep balls of its own off of Maryland ace Brian Shaffer. Both Kyle Davis and Jimmy Galusky went deep twice as the Mountaineers set a single-game postseason program record in homers.
With some injuries plaguing the starting rotation and two of the three traditional weekend starters unavailable for the region, the Mountaineers threw freshman Alek Manoah to start against the Terps before he yielded way to top starter BJ Myers who went 5.2 innings in relief in his first appearance from the pen of the season.
This is likely good news for the Deacs, at least on the front end of the game, as West Virginia will have neither of these two pitchers available to start against Wake. The good news for the Mountaineers was their bullpen went untouched as Myers was able to go the distance after Manoah yielded way in the fourth inning.
Similarly, off of a dominant performance by starter Connor Johnstone, Wake only had to use one reliever (Morgan McSweeney) and will have typical Friday starter Parker Dunshee on the mound as well as all of the bullpen’s high leverage arms available for potential relief appearances. I would expect Wake to follow a similar pattern to the ACC Tournament game against Miami where Dunshee went seven innings before Griffin Roberts came in to attempt the six-out save. While this game did not end quite how the Deacs would want it, this is a template for success perhaps with Dunshee getting the ball to go back out for three more outs if a similar situation presents itself.
The most likely starters for West Virginia are Kade Stroud (1-3, 5.49 ERA) or Isaiah Kearns (5-0, 4.78 ERA) who have each made seven starts on the season. While neither of these guys have impressive ERA numbers, it is likely that WVU will be going with a committee type approach, looking for a handful of guys to get through two or three innings a piece.
It is important for the Deacs to get off to another hot start like they did last night against UMBC, plating six runs in the second, as it sets up solid perspective for how to best utilize the bullpen - enabling manager Tom Walter to maximize the appearance of Dunshee who won’t be used again this weekend barring a bizarre turn of events.
Based upon the number of fans that West Virginia had at the game yesterday, it’s likely that the Couch will be absolutely packed tonight and the official Wake Forest Baseball Twitter account has already speculated that tickets will sell out for the game. The right field lawn will be open to increase the potential attendance and if I had to guess, I would say that this will set a Wake Forest baseball attendance record.
The winner of tonight’s contest has an inside track to winning the region as they will need just one more victory on Sunday afternoon to advance to the Super Regionals. The loser will face the winner of the Maryland-UMBC elimination game (2 p.m. in Winston-Salem) tomorrow early afternoon where the winner of that game advances to play the Wake-WVU winner later Sunday afternoon. Needless to say, the road is considerably easier with a win today.
By all accounts, last night’s atmosphere in Winston-Salem was electric and there was fantastic fan support for the opener. That said, the Deacon faithful need to get out there again tonight and make it a raucous atmosphere as this is likely Wake’s biggest baseball game in at least a decade. Although Wake advanced to the winner’s bracket last year in the Texas A&M regional, this year the Deacs are hosting and have homefield advantage. Get out there early and tailgate, and then head on over to the Couch to cheer on the Deacs.
If you have any questions or comments about tonight’s game, let us know below and as always, go Deacs.