At long last, the Wake Forest baseball team is set to take the diamond and kickoff their 2019 season in Winston-Salem. The Diamond Deacs play host to three separate opponents in the Wake Forest Invitational at David Couch Ballpark. First, they square off Friday against Sacred Heart from the Northeast Conference before jumping into a battle of top 40 teams against Illinois on Saturday afternoon. Finally, Coach Walter pits his squad against a Georgetown team to wrap up the weekend that includes his son, Chase, a freshman infielder.
The Deacons enter the season ranked in the top 50 by nearly every baseball publication and as high as 20th (by D1Baseball). With the bulk of the Deacs’ offensive production returning, Wake looks to make its third NCAA Tournament appearance in four years after missing out just one season ago. On the mound, Wake will rely upon a wealth of experienced arms beginning with junior Morgan McSweeney on Friday, junior Colin Peluse on Saturday, and lefty sophomore Jared Shuster in the finale on Sunday. Unfortunately, Wake is without senior infielder Bruce Steel to begin the season as Steel is temporarily unavailable due to eligibility concerns.
The weekend at the Couch kicks off early on Friday as Georgetown and Illinois square off at noon, followed by the Deacs’ season opener against Sacred Heart at 4 p.m. While Friday’s weather appears suited to get both matchups in, rain does become a concern on both Saturday and Sunday, an area of concern to keep an eye on as the weekend progresses.
Friday’s opponent, Sacred Heart, is coming off a 17-35 record and fifth place finish in the Northeast Conference. As with many northern college squads, Sacred Heart takes to the road for a significant portion of their early season non-conference matchups and the opener against Wake marks the first of fifteen consecutive games away from Connecticut before the Pioneers finally host Fordham back in Bridgeport.
On paper, Sacred Heart is one of the weakest opponents Wake will face all year. The Pioneers barely cracked the top 250 in RPI in 2018 and recorded only two wins over teams ranked in the top 100 overall. The Deacs will face off against senior right hander Brent Teller who put together a 4-7 record with a 5.24 ERA in the 2018 campaign. Teller, also the Pioneers’ opening day starter last season against Norfolk State, pitched seven innings in that game along with seven strikeouts en route to a victory.
While Wake can ill afford to overlook Sacred Heart on Friday, the Deacs’ schedule immediately becomes more difficult on Saturday when they face off against Illinois at 4 p.m. Illinois found itself on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble last year despite a 33-20 overall record, good enough for a top five finish in the Big 10.
The Illini will throw lefty senior Andy Fisher against the Deacs who is coming off a 6-3 record in 2018 with a 3.96 ERA. Illinois was picked by Big 10 coaches to finish third in the conference (behind Minnesota and Michigan) and is equipped to make a run at the 2019 NCAA Tournament. Fisher, along with fellow pitcher Quinn Snarskis and second baseman Michael Massey, were selected to the 2019 Big Ten preseason honors list.
Based on Wake’s own pitching order, it appears that Coach Walter wanted Peluse - considered to be the frontrunner for Friday starter in ACC play - to take to the rubber in the best matchup of the weekend when the Deacs face Illinois. The Illini are one of only a handful of non-conference matchups the Deacs have against a projected top 50 opponent and provides Wake a valuable opportunity to add a good win to their resume looking ahead to the NCAA Tournament.
Finally, the Deacs will conclude the weekend on Sunday against the Georgetown Hoyas who finished last season 25-30 overall with an 8-9 Big East record. Georgetown also opened their season last year in Winston-Salem, falling 7-2 to the Diamond Deacs.
The Hoyas will send Brent Killam to the mound on Sunday, a lefty who put together a 6-4 record with an impressive 3.06 ERA in 2018. On a personal note, as mentioned above, this will be a homecoming for freshman Chase Walter, Tom Walter’s son, who is an infielder for the Hoyas and will certainly be an exciting (albeit contentious) day for the Walters.
Georgetown is not expected to make a lot of noise in 2019, but is looking to build upon a tie for 4th place in the Big East and move into the top half of the conference. The Hoyas finished last season ranked 191st in the RPI, well beyond the bubble for the NCAA Tournament.
For Wake Forest, a team with serious NCAA Tournament hopes, this weekend provides a great opportunity to get a couple wins under their belt while also squaring off against another team in Illinois expected to compete for a postseason berth. Even without Bruce Steel for the weekend, I anticipate the Diamond Deacs will have the upper hand throughout the weekend (weather permitting of course) and take care of business on both Friday and Sunday. The Illini matchup should be an exciting tilt, but with Peluse on the mound I believe Wake will similarly shut down a potent Illinois offense and come out with the weekend sweep.
Bottom line is the Deacs should take at least two of three from the opening weekend and would be upset not to come away a perfect three for three after three days of play.
Unfortunately, none of the games this weekend are broadcast so Wake fans will have to follow along on Twitter or the Gametracker on Wake’s website.
It is frustrating that the bulk of Wake’s non-conference games are not broadcast in 2019, particularly given the expanded number of games the ACC broadcasts in total. Indeed, the majority of ACC baseball teams will have their non-conference games available to watch online on Watch ESPN.
While Wake does have a couple of road games available in the early season, the Deacs do not have a home game aired until conference play starts next month. Hopefully this is something Wake can resolve moving forward as the baseball team continues to put out a quality product and there is demand for these feeds (as seen by the steps other ACC teams have taken to provide consistent streaming).
Wake returns to action next week in a pair of road tilts, traveling to Liberty for a game Tuesday and Elon on Friday before coming back to Winston next weekend for three games in two days: twice against Quinnipiac and another game against the Phoenix.
For additional coverage of the Diamond Deacs, I advise following the official Wake baseball account on Twitter as well as @Les_Johns and @DeacBsBallFan32 - both of which also provide extensive and in-depth coverage of the Diamond Deacs on Wake’s 24/7 site. If you’re a Wake baseball fan who does not follow these guys, you’re missing out on valuable and impressive insight. They are a great asset for the baseball program overall.
What do you expect to see from our Diamond Deacs as Wake kicks off the season? Let us know below and also let us know what kind of baseball coverage you would like as the season progresses. At present, I plan on putting together weekend previews and a recap article each week but am more than happy to tailor coverage based on readers’ interests. And as always, go Deacs!