Dominant Deacons head to Omaha

Wake Forest has set records in its NCAA Tournament run

Wake Forest pitcher Seth Keener celebrates after the Demon Deacons beat Alabama on Sunday to advance to the College World Series. (Matt Kelley / AP Photo)

Wake Forest is headed to the third College World Series in program history. It’s the first trip to Omaha since 1955 when the Demon Deacons won the national title.

Through five games of regional and super regional play, Wake Forest has made a statement that another title is well within reach.

The Deacs are the top-ranked team in the country and entered the tournament with the No. 1 overall seed. They’ve done nothing since to give anyone reason to question those positions.

In five games of NCAA Tournament play, Wake has scored 75 runs, an average of 15 per game. By comparison, the Deacs scored 58 runs in 11 games on their way to the 1955 title.

Opponents have managed just 16 runs, and the plus-59 run differential is the largest for a team entering the College World Series in NCAA history.

Wake has trounced opponents during its two-week run to Omaha. Out of 45 innings played, Wake has led at the end of 42 of them. They played scoreless first innings with George Mason both times the two teams met in the regional round and were tied 3-3 with Alabama following the fourth inning of the first Super Regional game. Other than that, it was all Deacs. Wake led by 10 or more runs after 13 of the 45 innings played and has never trailed at any point in the NCAA Tournament.

Alabama gave Wake its one close game so far in the first game of the super regional. Wake jumped out to a 3-0 lead after two innings, but the Crimson Tide battled back to tie it up. Wake scored in the fifth to move back in front and went on to a 5-4 victory.

Game 2 was all Deacs as Wake scored 10 runs in the first three innings and another 10 in the final two, hitting nine home runs on the way to a 22-5 victory.

“I’m so proud of this team,” said coach Tom Walter. “This is a big day for our program. This is the culmination of a lot of hard work from a lot of people. …We had high expectations of this team all year. The higher the expectations got, the more these guys showed up. In big games, your big-time players have to show up.”

The Deacons are one of eight teams that will be playing for a title in Omaha. They’re the first No. 1 overall seed to advance to the CWS since 2018. All seven of the other contenders have been in the College World Series more recently than Wake Forest — even Oral Roberts, which upset its way there for its second CWS appearance and first since 1978.

Wake is one of five teams remaining that have won it all in the past. LSU (six titles, most recently in 2009), Stanford (two, most recently in 1988), Florida (one in 2017) and Virginia (one in 2015) are also in the field.

Wake’s well-balanced excellence makes it hard to catch the Deacs on a bad night. If the pitching is struggling, Wake has the offensive firepower to keep up in a slugfest. Brock Wilken set the ACC career home run record during a three-home run day in the clinching game of the super regional.

He was more interested in talking about the team celebration, however.

“It’s super special to be part of something that’s bigger than yourself,” he said. “It’s amazing to do it on the biggest college baseball stage. … That dogpile was surreal. Not a lot of people get to do that. To be able to do that with my best friends, that meant the world to me. I was hugging teammates and coaches, saying, ‘We did it.’ The job’s not finished, but this is a huge step along the way.”

When Wake struggles at the plate, the Deacs can rely on some of the strongest pitching in the nation led by Rhett Lowder, who moved to 15-0 with a win over Alabama in the first game of the weekend.

“To get the win in Game 1 of the super regional is what it’s supposed to be,” Walter said. “I’m so proud of him, the man he is, the leader that he is.”

LSU, the No. 5 national seed, is also able to dominate at the plate and on the mound. Two of the three finalists for the Golden Spikes player of the year award are Tigers — LSU pitching ace Paul Skenes and outfielder Dylan Crews. No. 2 national seed Florida has the third finalist in Jac Caglianone, who is a dominant batter and pitcher as a two-way player. Virginia, at No. 7, is the next highest national seed still playing.

So, for all of Wake’s accomplishments, there’s still plenty left to accomplish.

“It’s a big day for us,” Walter said after the super regional. “We’re going to celebrate this one for 36 hours and then get back to work because this team has even bigger goals.”