WINSTON SALEM, NC -- Bases loaded can giveth, but they can surely taketh too. That was the story in the early goings of game two in Wake Forest’s doubleheader against NC State, a 6-3 victory to sweep the rain-shortened series.
“Really proud of our guys the way we battled,” Wake Forest head coach Tom Walter said in his postgame press conference. “We had some things go against us there, especially in that second game…but we did enough to win.”
In the bottom of the third, Wolfpack starter Matt Willadsen loaded the bases with a single, walk and hit batter. Pierce Bennett singled home the first run of the ball game, and then NC State suffered from two-straight missed connections between the pitcher and catcher to make it 3-0.
It felt good from there. Wake Forest starter Josh Hartle was cruising — until he wasn’t. Two soft singles and a hit batter later, the Deacs faced their own bases-loaded conundrum. And similar to NC State, mistakes exacerbated the problem. On a high fly to right field, none of the three Deacons near the ball could corral it, resulting in the first run. Then, two consecutive singles tied the game.
That would be it for Hartle, and due to the canceled game from rain, Wake Forest was able to turn to their traditional Saturday starter, Sean Sullivan. And all Sullivan did was retire 13 of the 15 batters he faced, including the first 11. In addition, he struck out eight.
“The difference, in both games, was really our bullpen,” Walter said.
After mistakes had hampered them earlier in the game, Wake Forest capitalized again on those of the Pack. With the score tied at three in the bottom of the seventh, Lucas Costello began the two-out rally by singling to right field. After Brock Wilken walked, Bennett doubled to right to rocket the Deacs back into the lead.
HAVE A DAY, BENNY BARRELS ♂️ ♂️ ♂️ pic.twitter.com/fkVaoPUsNG— Wake Forest Baseball (@WakeBaseball) April 9, 2023
“[He’s] so, so clutch,” Walter said of Bennett. “Huge at bats when we need him. He’s just a clutch player. He wants to be up in those situations. His teammates want him up in those situations, the coaches want him up in those situations.”
But that wasn’t enough. On a high fly that could’ve ended the inning, shortstop Payton Green appeared to lose the ball in the sun and wind, and the drop resulted in two more Deacons crossing the plate.
Walter stuck with Sullivan in the ninth inning to close out the game. The Wolfpack got two on with one out, but a double play was the dagger, and Wake Forest left The Couch with their third-straight ACC sweep, albeit a game lighter.
And they did it without the presence of two big bats in their lineup — Adam Cecere and Nick Kurtz — who were both out due to injury. But that could change soon. Walter noted in his postgame press conference that both “could” be back for the Louisville series, which would inject a much missed — and needed — bit of juice into the Wake Forest lineup.
Speaking of juice, for these Deacons, playing baseball is pretty darn fun right now.
“It’s awesome,” starting pitcher Rhett Lowder said. “Everybody plays hard. Every day, being on the winning side of this many ACC series, it feels really good.”
The Deacs will return to action Tuesday afternoon when they travel to Boone to face App State. Then, a much longer trip is in the works for the weekend; a red-hot Louisville awaits.