DURHAM, NC – With an 0-2 count and two outs in the fifth, Seth Keener and Wake Forest were just one pitch away from getting through the inning trailing by a lone run. After an RBI double, head coach Tom Walter turned to Derek Crum, a reliever who had just 13.1 innings to his name this year.
In likely the biggest position of his season, Crum proceeded to record the final two outs in the fifth and keep the deficit at two. After Wake Forest retook the lead with a three-run inning, Crum sent the Irish packing once more with two strikeouts, righting the ship for the Deacs on their way to a 7-5 win.
“Huge,” Walter said of Crum’s performance after the game. “He comes out there and gets a big punch out in a big situation and then gets us in the dugout. The next inning, gives up the leadoff hit. [It] looks like that inning might get away from us. And then he comes up again, starts making some pitches…got his offspeed going…got a slider going.”
Trailing by those two runs in the fifth, Wake Forest turned the corner, and did so quickly. First baseman Nick Kurtz led the inning off with a solo home run, his second of the game, to halve Notre Dame’s lead. And, after loading the bases, Ryan Lynch let a pitch run wild to tie the game. A single by Tommy Hawke flipped the score back for good.
Behind Crum, the Deacs did enough on the mound to win. Will Ray was solid for 1.1 innings, with just one run against him. Freshman Joe Ariola secured an out, and transfer Cole Roland closed the game out with two strikeouts.
“Really proud of our bullpen,” Walter said. “Really happy with their performance.”
Crum, amongst others, are instances of pitchers not often used by Walter in ACC play. But come the NCAA Tournament, bullpen depth is critical, and players like him will get the call.
“We’re probably going to need him next weekend,” Walter said of Crum. “The beginning of the year, he didn’t throw a ton of leverage innings, but if you look at the last three weeks, his role has gotten bigger and bigger. His importance to this bullpen is huge for us. We’ve been needing the left hand piece out of the ‘pen, and he and Joe Ariola [have] answered the bell.”
To bolster the relief pitchers, Wake Forest added two insurance runs in its final two trips to the plate — Lucas Costello drove Bennett Lee in on a fielder’s choice, and Brock Wilken mashed a solo home run in the eighth to extend the lead to two.
Leading into the game, with a spot in the semifinal already secured, Walter had three goals — win, save his leverage arms and prepare starter Seth Keener to pitch on Friday in the regional. Despite Keener’s four-earned runs in 4.1 innings, the objective was hit.
“I thought Seth threw the ball well,” Walter said. “I mean, you look back at the game, there were some hit batters that cost Seth and then a couple bad 0-2 pitches. I feel like if we eliminate the free passes and just make a couple better 0-2 pitches, we might have won that game 7-0.”
And, for all the talk of this game being unimportant, the reality is that it now very well could be quite significant. If the weekend games are canceled, Wake Forest would be crowned the ACC Champion.
“We want to win this tournament championship,” Walter said. “And if something happened, [and] we couldn’t play baseball the next two days, we had to win this game. Our guys knew that. They know what’s at stake.”
With serious rain in the forecast for the weekend, the ACC has already made moves to try and ensure the semifinals and finals are played. Both games tomorrow are now slated to be played at 1pm — Wake Forest vs Miami at Boshamer Stadium on UNC’s campus and North Carolina vs Clemson the DBAP in Durham.
Updates will likely come in the morning on the status of the semifinal games.