OMAHA, NE – Each step in the past few days has been a first in quite some time for this program. Wake Forest hadn’t dogpiled in a Super Regional, flown to Omaha or practiced at the College World Series since 1955. It’s all new, especially for head coach Tom Walter, who hadn’t yet made it to Charles Schwab Field in his 27 years as a head coach.
“This has always been a dream,” Walter said. “I’m truly glad that I haven’t been here before, because I wouldn’t want to be here with any other team. This group of guys, the way they’ve come together, how much they care about each other and how hard they work has truly been special to be part of.”
To Walter’s left sat two critical figures for the program — Rhett Lowder and Brock Wilken. Both have played a pivotal role in Wake Forest getting this far. And, this will likely be their final stop with the Deacs. Lowder and Wilken are both projected to go in the first round of this year’s MLB Draft. Things have come a long way for all three at the podium.
“It all started with a conversation we had in my office with these two guys to my left…in the spring of 2021,” Walter said. “We were struggling as a team and our team culture was fractured, and we made a plan. Those guys could have left for greener pastures, but they decided they wanted to build something special at Wake Forest. This is the culmination of that work.”
For those two players, the endpoint of a long journey — Omaha — was breathtaking.
“It was awesome,” Lowder said of seeing the field for the first time. “I was up top and looked down and it just took the breath away from me. These are the moments you take in…really enjoy it.”
“It’s really eye opening,” Wilken added. “You don’t really grasp the scope of how special this moment is until you get to step on that field. I just took a little gaze around, took a glance at all the fans and people screaming your name. It’s pretty cool, not too many people get to do this. It’s a very special moment.”
While basking in being here, the point of it all is not lost.
“We only have one goal, and that’s to bring it home,” Lowder said.
Those are high expectations. Leading into the season, Walter had big hopes for this team. To say the least, the Deacs have surpassed them.
“I think they’ve exceeded them,” he said. “Again, for us to be sitting here 52-10, I wouldn’t have thought that. I thought we had a good chance to win the regular season championship. To do it the way we did, so convincingly, to not have lost a series all year, to not have lost back-to-back games all year, is a really big testament to not only their consistency, but their toughness.”
Yet, there’s still room for improvement.
“The good news is I’m not even sure we’ve played our best baseball yet,” Walter continued. “I feel like we can play better than we’ve been playing.”
For a lot of the season, despite being the No. 1 team in the nation, it’s seemed like Wake Forest has flown a bit under the radar. Not so in Omaha. Many have predicted the Deacs to leave with the trophy. A target is firmly on their backs. But the team isn’t going to fall back on the ranking.
Goliath enters the building. pic.twitter.com/67unmjvWLU— College Baseball Central (@CollegeBaseCNT) June 15, 2023
“They said that there’s the No. 1 seed curse to get here, but then we got here,” Lowder said.
Wake Forest will face the target head on and play its brand of baseball.
“That ranking means something until you get here,” Wilken added. “Once you get here, those rankings mean nothing anymore. It’s just about who goes out, plays the loosest and has the most fun. That team is more than likely going to win.”
At the time of the team’s press conference, Wake Forest was roughly 47 hours away from first pitch against Stanford. In terms of preparation, not much changes.
“I think it’s going to be business as usual,” Walter said. “It’s just game prep from here on in. It’s making sure our guys are rested and hydrated and well-fed, of course, and making sure we get a little something out of our lift this afternoon and our team practice tomorrow. I think it’s no different than heading into a regional or a weekend series really.”
Something else that won’t change: it’ll be Rhett Lowder Day for Wake Forest’s first game of the College World Series. Josh Hartle will start Monday. According to Walter, both Sean Sullivan and Seth Keener will be available against Stanford, and he won’t “hesitate” to go to one of both of them.
On the other side, who will start on the mound is a little less clear. A decision has yet to be made on Quinn Mathews, who threw 156 pitches on Saturday. He will be monitored by the Stanford coaching staff leading into Game 1.
"I don't know if we've come to that decision just yet. We're still monitoring Quinn. I would be surprised if he didn't [start]."— Essex Thayer (@essexthayer7) June 15, 2023
- Stanford HC David Esquer on starting Quinn Matthews on Saturday after a 156-pitch game in the Supers
Said his safety is key, Joey Dixon is No. 2.
With the press conferences and open practice at Charles Schwab complete, all that’s left is to go play.
“We’re battle-tested,” Walter said. “We’ve been through our league. We’ve been through the conference tournament, the regional, and now. If we do our thing, we’re going to be in really good shape. Just go out there and do what we’ve done all year.”
First pitch between Wake Forest and Stanford is set for 2 pm ET, 1 pm local, on ESPN.
Coverage of Wake Forest baseball and the College World Series continues in Omaha. Stay tuned to Blogger So Dear for news, game stories and features.