DURHAM, NC – Wake Forest had to wait two long days to hit the field at Durham Bulls Athletic Park for the beginning of postseason play, but once it did, the team didn’t take long to pounce. The Deacs struck early and often, knocking starter Logan Evans out of the game after three innings, and rode an impressive Rhett Lowder start to a 10-2 win over No. 12 Pitt.
“That’s who we are,” Wake Forest head coach Tom Walter said. “We grind at-bats and we smother you with pitching and defense and don’t give the other team a lot of momentum.”
With the victory, the Deacs move on to a semifinal matchup with the winner of Thursday’s nightcap between No. 4 Miami and No. 9 NC State — the first time a No. 1 seed has reached the final four in the new “pool-play” era of the ACC Baseball Championship.
“Well, we have Rhett Lowder,” Walter said regarding the broken streak. “We were able to pick our schedule. We knew we wouldn’t play Tuesday or Wednesday. Rhett threw on Thursday last week, so we knew he’d pitch on regular rest or one-plus day. The nice thing is, when you get to pick your schedule, you can set it up that way.”
A pair of walks sandwiched a Lucas Costello double to lead off the first for Wake Forest, scoring one. Justin Johnson flied out to deep center to sacrifice in a second, and Pierce Bennett knocked a seeing-eye single through the right gap to give the Deacons an early 3-0 at the end of its first trip to the plate.
“That first inning was huge for us,” Brock Wilken said of getting on the board early. “As long as we can keep playing the game, keep doing what we’re doing and not let the moment get too big for us, that’s what’s going to keep happening.”
Rake Forest joined the show in the third — Wilken hit his 66th-career homer with a leadoff solo shot to right and Bennett Lee followed with a two-run blast just right of the “Blue Monster.”
“There’s a reason they’re No. 1 in the country,” Pitt head Coach Mike Bell said. “I thought Lowder was outstanding. In the third inning, the two-out focus was a big lift for them. Any time, with that guy on the mound and their defense...any time they have a lead of three or four, it feels like five or six.”
“Credit to them, what they’ve done this year,” Bell continued. “They’re going to be a fun team to watch representing our league as they go forward.”
Bennett added another RBI to the box score in the fifth inning, scoring Wilken after his leadoff double.
Danny Corona ripped the Deacs’ third home run of the game to right field in the ninth — answering Pitt’s one-run attempt at a comeback in the previous half-inning. Hawke later brought around run No. 10 with an RBI single.
After a shaky opening on the mound — allowing three doubles and a run in the first two innings — Lowder locked down the Panthers, giving up just those three hits and striking out six en route to a spectacular seven-inning performance.
“Every time Rhett Lowder takes the mound, we feel really good about our chances,” Walter said. “[He] gives up one run through the first three hitters in the game and then settles down, gets a couple of big double-play balls and, again, does what Rhett does. [He] didn’t have his best stuff, didn’t have his good changeup. But, seven innings, one run, we’ll take that all day long.”
“He got a slider going today,” Walter continued. “First two innings, he didn’t locate his fastball really well. Then he settled into the game and starting to move his fastball around and pitched off his slider. He and [pitching] coach [Corey] Muscara made that adjustment after the second inning and put it on on cruise control.”
Michael Massey and Cam Minacci followed Lowder with one inning each, neither maxing 20 pitches. Both should be available for the semifinals.
Wake Forest, with its ACC Tournament future secure, will play again Friday in an inconsequential game against already eliminated Notre Dame. Midweek starter Reed Mascolo will begin the game on the mound, per Walter, and the team will likely avoid using any high-leverage arms. First pitch is set for 7pm on ACC Network.