WINSTON SALEM, NC – If you fail once, try again. Twice, try again — on and on until something changes. That proved to be true Thursday night, as Wake Forest ultimately shook its early inability to bat runners in to defeat Virginia Tech 6-3.
The Deacs were finally able to turn the tide of the game in their fifth turn at the plate. With back-to-back singles by Tommy Hawke and Lucas Costello, along with a walk from Nick Kurtz, Wake Forest loaded the bases with no outs.
And they struck.
Two-straight singles by Brock Wilken and Pierce Bennett brought Wake Forest within a run of the lead, and consecutive sacrifice flies shot them ahead of the Hokies.
“I give credit to our guys,” head coach Tom Walter said. “They don’t panic. They just keep grinding. They keep pushing.”
There was a lot of anguish leading up to that broken dam of runs for the Deacons. In front of a regular-season record crowd of 2,505, the hits were there. The finishing, not so much.
Leading off the game, Wake Forest pounded on Virginia Tech’s front door, loading the bases with one out. A double play quickly put the threat to bed, and started a ghastly trend that would persist for a portion of the evening.
The Deacs left two on in the third, and loaded the bases once more in the fourth, only for a double play to quash any hopes of scoring.
In all — over the course of the first four innings — Wake Forest left six on base, grounded into three double plays and were left wanting twice with the bases full.
“We left the truckload on base early,” Walter said.
To make matters worse, with each passing inning of runners left on, the Deacs watched their deficit get larger and larger. Despite striking out 12, a career record, Rhett Lowder amassed three earned runs over the first five innings. Solo runs in the second, fourth and fifth, including a home run, put Virginia Tech up 3-0.
But after Wake Forest’s four-run awakening, Lowder gutted out a “shutdown inning,” a critical hold on the mound to maintain the edge on the scoreboard.
With a single and a double, runners were on the corners with one out, and the Hokies looked primed to tie the game, or even retake the lead. But, behind a strikeout and an induced fly ball, Lowder got out of the inning, and stood to earn his 12th win.
CAREER-HIGH 12 Ks for 4 @lowderrhett with a shutdown inning in the sixth. 4-3 Deacs! pic.twitter.com/Bebx3zbfby— Wake Forest Baseball (@WakeBaseball) May 18, 2023
“[It’s] emblematic of the way he’s battled his whole career,” Walter said. “Rhett’s gone out there and made big pitches for us for three years now. I would expect nothing less out of Rhett Lowder to go out there and get us a shut down.”
With the direction of the game completely shifted from that point forward, Wake Forest stepped on the gas pedal, adding two insurance runs in the sixth and eighth, both off the bat of Kurtz.
“We talk a lot about shutdown innings,” Walter said. “We talk a lot about momentum. Once we grabbed the momentum back, we didn’t let go of it.”
Equally important, the bullpen behind Lowder was just as good, if not better, and propelled the Deacs to the finish line. Michael Massey tossed two hitless innings, striking out five. And Cam Minacci, Wake Forest’s spirited closer that struggled this past weekend, struck out the side in the ninth.
.@michaelmassey_ strikes out the side in the eighth pic.twitter.com/6NNz9eKIt3— Wake Forest Baseball (@WakeBaseball) May 19, 2023
“I didn’t have stretches that I’ve wanted to have these past couple weeks,” Minacci said. “But…we just stick to a process. That’s how we compete. And that’s how we win.”
“Minacci is our guy,” Walter added. “He needs to be out there in that situation. I thought today was the best Minacci has thrown the ball all year.”
With a hard-fought win in the bank, Wake Forest will return to action tomorrow looking to secure its 10th-straight ACC series win. That quest will begin at 6pm on ACCNX.