LOUISVILLE, KY – For the second-straight weekend, Wake Forest’s Rhett Lowder did not start on his traditional Friday, affectionately known as “Rhett Lowder Bump Day.” But that didn’t matter. After a less-than-perfect outing six days ago against NC State, Lowder cruised through the Louisville lineup, leading Wake Forest to a 3-0 victory, and their first-ever series win at Jim Patterson Stadium.
“[It’s] so fun,” Lowder said after the game. “Anytime you can take the series from a really good team it’s awesome. I can’t ask for anything better than that.”
For the Cardinals, it was the first time they had lost a home ACC series since they played Miami in 2021.
“Louisville doesn’t lose very much at home,” head coach Tom Walter said. “It says something about our ball club. Says something about the different ways we can win, too.”
In seven innings of action and 88 pitches, Lowder allowed just five hits — and, of course — no runs. In three separate innings, the Deacons’ ace set the Cardinals down 1-2-3, and in another he got three outs in just five pitches.
“That’s why he’s the returning ACC Pitcher of the Year and a potential All-American,” Walter said. “That’s why he’s our guy. It’s nice when you’re going for a series win and you have that guy on the mound.”
The start didn’t come without its tense moments. In the third, a double just past the outstretched glove of Justin Johnson escaped Tommy Hawke in center for an error, allowing the runner to reach third. But, with two outs, Lowder calmly induced a grounder to end the threat.
Two innings later, with a full count, Lowder was just one pitch away from loading the bases. Christian Knapczyk — who had a .328 batting average and .448 on-base percentage entering the game — looked at strike three to send the hopeful Cardinals packing.
FIRE US UP, 4!@lowderrhett ♨️ pic.twitter.com/TMwAoUXg4j— Wake Forest Baseball (@WakeBaseball) April 15, 2023
“That was huge,” Lowder said of the strikeout. “He’s a great hitter. I had to bear down. I knew that was the biggest pitch of the day.”
“I thought [that was] the at-bat of the game,” Walter added. “Knapczyk is as good of a hitter as there is in this league.”
The rest of the way home for Lowder was comfortable.
While not quite as lively as the previous evening, the Wake Forest home run party continued over to Saturday. Catcher Bennett Lee homered to left-center to open the scoring in the third, and Justin Johnson recorded his third home run in just two days.
HAVE A WEEKEND, JUSTIN JOHNSON! pic.twitter.com/1aTPLrfuLc— Wake Forest Baseball (@WakeBaseball) April 15, 2023
Wake Forest added a third run in the fifth inning, but it could’ve been more. With the bases loaded, Johnson took a pitch to the leg to plate Hawke. But, with two outs, Chris Katz popped up to prevent a breakthrough inning that could effectively put the game away.
In all, the Deacons recorded eight hits in the win, a far cry from the 16 knocks Friday night. But they did enough to win. Behind Lowder, Michael Massey gave Wake Forest a perfect eighth inning, and closer Cam Minacci slammed the door shut in the ninth.
With the historic first series win at Louisville behind them, the Demon Deacons will now look to go a step further — sweep the Cardinals tomorrow. When it’s Louisville — a No. 10 team at that — sitting directly behind Wake Forest for the top spot in the Atlantic, it means that much more.
“We’re competing for the division title,” Walter said. “Having that top seat in the conference certainly makes a big difference.”
First pitch in the series finale is at 1pm on ACCNX.