WINSTON SALEM, NC – Bases loaded. Loaded again, and again and again. In the first five innings of a top-10 matchup between No. 2 Wake Forest and No. 6 Coastal Carolina, the Deacons loaded the bases in four of them. And for a time, they didn’t capitalize, leaving seven on.
But on the fifth installment of bases juiced, Nick Kurtz did, bombing a ball to right-center for a grand slam and giving Wake Forest the room they needed to power to a 11-1 run-rule victory.
“We had to have it,” Wake Forest head coach Tom Walter said. “It’s a top 10 matchup. This is one of those games that, when it comes to postseason seeding, the committee is going to be looking at right here.”
When the Deacons traveled to Conway, SC in the first week of March, they allowed seven errors — 20% of their season total — in a 13-11 loss. Responding to the defeat with a comprehensive victory was rewarding; Wake Forest didn’t register a single error and made several big plays in the field.
“To be able to flip that script today and come out and play like we did was just super special,” Brock Wilken said. “[It] shows how much grit we have as a team, being able to not hold that against ourselves and being able to move forward from the past.”
Along with Kurtz’s nuke of a home run in the fifth to break open the lead, Wilken rocketed a home run to left in the third — the 59th of his career — to break the Wake Forest program record.
“It’s an exclamation point on a really great career that he’s had here,” Walter said. “To do it with 14 games left in the regular season, it’s pretty special. Who knows what that record will look like at the end of the year.”
In a sense, Wilken should have never made it to Wake Forest. If not for an abbreviated MLB Draft — due to COVID-19 — that saw 40 rounds shortened to five, Wilken likely would have been selected by a pro club.
“I know some Florida scouts really well,” Walter noted. “I said, ‘you’re gonna have some hard questions to answer with that guy’s junior year here where he gets drafted’ because it was apparent right away that he was a different animal. When he goes in the first round this year, some people are going to have to answer some tough questions.”
But, luckily for Wake Forest, Wilken did come to play in Winston-Salem. And when Walter congratulated him in the dugout after the record-breaking home run, the circle drew full.
“That was a very special moment,” Wilken said. “Being able to put on this jersey and play for a guy like that, I don’t think a lot of people know how much it means to me. To give me this opportunity is unlike anything I could ever say thank you [for].”
On the mound, Seth Keener backed up the Deacons’ bats with a solid performance in his third start of the season. The long reliever, who has been vital out of the bullpen for Wake Forest this year, allowed just five hits and one run in five innings of action, striking out six in the process.
“Seth Keener was fantastic tonight,” Walter said. “Really pleased with how Seth threw the baseball. To get five innings out of him on 72 pitches against that offense is a great outing. I thought Seth was really special tonight.”
Michael Massey, following Keener, struck out five to restrict any hope of a comeback for Coastal Carolina.
Then, in the seventh, Wake Forest had bases loaded for its sixth time, but quickly recorded two outs. Enter Justin Johnson. Fresh off an eight-RBI game against Pitt, Johnson knocked in two runs to enact the mercy rule and send the Chanticleers packing.
The Deacs don’t have much time to celebrate the big win — they are back in action tomorrow against App State at Keeter Stadium in Shelby, NC. First pitch is set for 6pm.