Wake Forest moves to No. 1 in country as postseason baseball approaches

The Deacs hope to follow up on a historic regular season

Wake Forest’s Rhett Lowder, a right-handed pitcher from Albemarle, is 11-0 this season for the top-ranked Demon Deacons. (Ben McKeown / AP Photo)

Wake Forest baseball continues to break new ground during the Demon Deacons’ historic 2023 season.

With the postseason just over a week away, the Demon Deacons are at the top of the national polls. Wake Forest moved into the No. 1 spot in the NCAA, Baseball America, D1 and USA Today top 25s, the first time the program has reached the top of the rankings.

The secret behind Wake’s ascent was simple — don’t lose. Wake has won 13 straight weekend series, which covers the entire ACC conference schedule. The Deacs went 9-0 in ACC series this season with one more to play. The performance put the Demon Deacons as high as No. 2, but it took LSU — which had been No. 1 since the preseason — losing a series at Auburn two weekends ago to open the door for Wake to take the final step. The Deacs then won two of three at Florida State, while LSU lost a second straight series to give the Deacons two straight weeks at the top.

Wake has one series left, at home against Virginia Tech this weekend, before the ACC Tournament in Durham next week.

The Demon Deacons’ two wins at Florida State also helped Wake achieve another milestone for the program. Wake Forest clinched the ACC Atlantic Division title as well as the overall ACC regular season championship. It’s the fourth time in program history Wake has won the ACC and the first time in 60 years.

“I’m really proud of this ballclub to win the first regular season ACC Championship since 1963,” said coach Tom Walter. “I can’t say enough about our club, the culture they’ve built and how much they care about each other.”

Wake’s win set a program record for conference wins, and the Deacs also lead the country in overall wins, run differential and winning percentage. They became the first team in the nation to hit the 40-win mark last week. Out of the eight times Wake has won 40 games in a year, this is just the second time, and first since 2002, that the Deacs hit the milestone during the regular season, and their next win will set a school record for victories in a season.

Of course, the Deacons have more on their minds than just rewriting the regular season record book.

“We wanted to win the regular season championship and kind of pick out our tournament schedule, which is nice,” said Walter. “But it’s just one step in the journey. We have to maintain our national seed. We have to play good baseball and stay in the top eight, and as high up in that eight as possible. It affects who you get matched up with in the Super Regional, and affects your two seed down the line.”

The Deacs continue to dominate on the mound. Wake leads the nation in ERA (2.52), walks and hits per inning (1.02), strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.40), hits per nine innings (6.52) and strikeouts per nine (11.9). They also lead the ACC in overall strikeouts (577) and walks per nine innings (2.69). Wake has also held ACC opponents to three or fewer runs in 18 of 26 games.

That doesn’t mean Wake has been a slouch at the plate. The Deacs lead the ACC and are in the top 10 nationally in scoring (9.3 runs per game, sixth), home runs (99, ninth) and walks (326, second). They’re also among the 10-best in the nation and second in the league in on-base percentage, slugging and runs scored.

Nick Kurtz has been one of Wake’s offensive leaders, with 20 home runs, a .360 average and 1.354 OPS. He’s won two ACC player of the week awards, joining Adam Cecere and pitchers Sean Sullivan (two) and Rhett Lowder (three) as ACC weekly award winners. Lowder is 11-0 with a 1.52 ERA on the year. He’s one of just two pitchers in the nation with an 11-0 mark.

Wake can also rely on home run leader Brock Wilken, who has 23 on the year and is closing in on the ACC career record for the long ball, and closer Carmen Minacci, who has 11 saves and is ninth in the nation among active career saves leaders.

All the ingredients are there for a team that has dominated the regular season. Now, Wake hopes to win its first ACC Tournament since 2001 and reach the College World Series for the first time since 1955, when the Deacs won it all.

“This is such a special group,” Walter said. “To see the hard work, emotion and passion they pour into it. … We’ve checked one box, but this club still has a lot of boxes to check.”

“We’re not done for sure,” Kurtz said. “Now we have bigger and better goals to accomplish.”