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Wake Forest handles Boston College ninth-inning surge to take series

Josh Hartle led the way with seven innings of one-run baseball

Wake Forest Baseball

WINSTON SALEM, NC – In Saturday’s 11-9 extra innings loss to No. 19 Boston College, No. 2 Wake Forest surely felt the tense moments on the field — it couldn’t overcome them. On Sunday, with an eighth-straight ACC series win on the line, a similar strain was evident. The Deacs responded, and in the face of adversity, prevailed for a 4-2 victory.

Ahead 4-1 in the ninth inning — the same margin lead Wake Forest lost in Saturday’s game — reliever Michael Massey was able to secure the first two outs. But, with the bases loaded, a single brought the Eagles within two. In an aforementioned tense situation, Massey induced a ground ball to Marek Houston, who tossed the ball to Justin Johnson for out No. 3 and the win.

But, it wasn’t that easy. The out call at second was reviewed. If overturned, it was possible that two runners could’ve theoretically passed home in the confusion to tie the game, if not for a heads up play by Johnson to toss home after the final out.

“If that third base coach is wheeling him the whole time, then that play stays live,” Wake Forest head coach Tom Walter explained. “They were wheeling him on that play. It was a heads up play by JJ. When [the umpires] look at that [play], they can look at the first call [at second] and call that guy out. But they can also look at the totality of the play and say the second guy was out, too.”

Fortunately for Wake Forest, the play at second held true upon review, and a much deeper look into the play as a whole was unnecessary.

Before the ninth inning, not much tension came from the Deacons’ pitching. Starter Josh Hartle was commanding and efficient. Aside from a Joe Vetrano solo shot in the second inning — his third in two games — Hartle never gave Boston College much of a chance. And when runners reached scoring position, the sophomore beared down to get out of the inning.

The home run affected Hartle positively. He settled in fast, and kept getting better and better.

“It fires me up to give up a home run,” Hartle said. “I don’t know if I focused more, or I was mad, but I definitely got into a groove with all my pitches.”

“The curveball got better for starters,” Walter noted. “His curveball, in the first two innings, was kind of rolling, and then it got a lot sharper as the game went on. That was a big difference. His changeup has been getting better each week…then you pair that with a sinking fastball, the cutter and the overhand breaking ball, it gives him a good flowering of his pitches.”

Hartle finished the afternoon with six hits and eight strikeouts in seven innings, along with just one walk.

“Josh was really the difference,” Walter said. “Not only did he get zeros, but he had economical innings. He goes seven innings and his pitch count is [101]. That’s pretty darn good.”

The impressive outing on the mound was much needed for Wake Forest. Down Cole Roland and closer Cam Minacci because of Saturday’s extra-innings battle, the bullpen was not at full force. More so, aside from two home runs in the first two innings — from Nick Kurtz and Danny Corona — the Deacs couldn’t punch in runs.

Following the two solo blasts, Wake Forest left nine runners on base, including a bases-loaded scenario with just one out in the fourth that wasn’t capitalized on.

But, in the seventh inning, the Deacs finally did take advantage of the opportunity. Pierce Bennett hit Brock Wilken home after his leadoff double, and was then sacrificed in by Bennett Lee.

With the 4-1 lead, Seth Keener came on for a critical “shutdown” inning. He quickly got two outs, but after a walk, gave way to freshman lefty Joe Ariola. In the highest leverage situation of Ariola’s young career, he struck out the home-run hitting Vetrano to end the scoreless inning.

In going to both Keener — who played a role in Boston College’s Saturday comeback — and a freshman, Walter displayed a great deal of trust.

“[I’m] really proud of Seth Keener coming and getting two outs,” Walter said. “Really proud of Joe Ariola getting a huge out for us against a really great hitter.”

In that following ninth inning, the Sunday crowd at David F. Couch hung on every pitch, waiting to erupt. Each windup from Massey came in the midst of a clapping intro. The reaction from the Wake Forest faithful, which culminated in a program-record 6,155 series attendance, meant something to Walter and his team.

“That means the world to us,” he said. “Our guys have really appreciated how the crowd showed up, how they’ve been there every pitch. It’s a special environment here that we’re really proud of.”

In the face of potential calamity, Wake Forest conquered the battle, but as it has all season, the show goes on. UNC Greensboro comes to The Couch on Tuesday, and Florida State awaits in Tallahassee for a weekend series.