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Eighth-inning home run propels Wake Forest to 7-5 victory

Wake Forest’s bullpen slammed the door shut with 9 strikeouts in three innings

Wake Forest Baseball

WINSTON SALEM, NC – Pressure makes diamonds. In more ways than one Friday night, Wake Forest proved that to be true, once again fighting from behind to beat Virginia Tech 7-5, winning its tenth-straight ACC series in the process.

In perhaps the highest-leverage situation of his young career, freshman Marek Houston delivered. With Adam Cecere on first in the eighth, and the score tied at five, Houston rocked a 2-1 pitch just over the left-field wall to hurtle the Deacs into the lead, one they would not relinquish.

“I was really thrilled with Marek’s at-bats all day long,” head coach Tom Walter said. “He’s in there as a freshman in our league, which isn’t easy to do, and he just goes out there and battles every day. He works so hard…and he’s getting better and better.”

But that was not the only intense moment of the game. After scoring the first two runs of the game on a Tommy Hawke homer in the third, starter Josh Hartle was one out away from a shutdown inning in the fourth. A single and a two-run blast quickly changed the course of the game. An error later in the inning would give the Hokies the lead.

Virginia Tech added two more runs its next time up to the plate — another home run put the Deacs down by three for the second-straight game of the series.

Again, the pressure. But, as Walter and his team have said all season, the Deacs don’t panic.

In the bottom of the fifth, Houston led off the inning with a single, followed by the same for Hawke.

Then, Lucas Costello — in perhaps one of the more bizarre sequences of the season — laid down a solid bunt. The third baseman made a great play and threw to first to put away the out, but no one was there. The ball scattered and two Deacons scored. Costello touched home later in the inning to tie the game at five.

An even score late in a contest brings its own brand of pressure too, especially on the pitchers. No matter. Hartle came back to the mound in the sixth — a great show of faith from Wake Forest’s coaching staff — and rewarded them by retiring the side. Cole Roland struck out six-straight batters to hold the Hokies at bay in the seventh and eighth. And, in the ninth, after Houston’s clutch at-bat, Cam Minacci shut Virginia Tech down with three K’s of his own.

“Cole was electric tonight,” Walter said. “I’ve never seen Cam better than he was tonight.”

Within the framework of the victory, several accomplishments arose. First, the Wake Forest fan base hit its highest mark in program history, setting a record for single-game attendance at 3,023.

“What an electric atmosphere today,” Walter said. “It was just so fired up. I’m glad our guys responded and played with great energy today because Deacon Nation showed up and had our back.”

Additionally, the Deacs locked up series win No. 10, ensuring that the team will not lose an ACC weekend set all year. In doing so, Wake Forest — if it hadn’t already been done — should be secure for a top-eight national seed going into the NCAA Tournament.

“I just told the team, coming into this season, we had some goals,” Walter said. “We won the regular-season [title], 10 for 10 in our in league play series…which is really hard to do in this league. And I think, with this win today, we set up a national seed. I don’t see how we don’t get a national seat at this point. [But] we’ve got other boxes to check.”

Tomorrow, Wake Forest will look to end the regular season with another high note on Senior Day — a sweep. First pitch is set for 1pm on ACCNX.