Drama follows Wake Forest to Omaha

The Demon Deacons won their first two games with comebacks to continue their College World Series run

Wake Forest catcher Bennett Lee tags out LSU's Tre’ Morgan at home plate in the eighth inning of Monday’s College World Series game in Omaha, Nebraska. The Demon Deacons won 3-2 to improve to 2-0. (Rebecca S. Gratz / AP Photo)

There’s confidence, and there’s wild-eyed fanatical belief. Wake Forest’s baseball team is bordering on the latter as the Demon Deacons continue their undefeated run through the NCAA Tournament with two wild wins to open College World Series play.

“We have a bunch of unwavering faith,” said pitcher Josh Hartle, who allowed two runs over six innings against LSU, striking out nine. “Doesn’t matter if we’re down 10-0 or up 10-0. We’re never out of a game. And just kudos to our team. The camaraderie, chemistry with us I think is unbreakable.”

Players always seem to say the right things about trusting teammates and believing they can win no matter what the obstacles, but the Deacs are sounding like devotees of a cult leader — easy to understand since Wake has all but walked on water so far in its postseason run.

“How can we lose?” asked closer Camden Minacci, who saved the first game and earned the win in the second. “Every single guy is having the time of their lives right now. Who can beat us? It seems pretty much impossible.”

The Demon Deacons dominated the first two weekends of NCAA play, setting a tournament record by entering the College World Series outscoring their NCAA foes by 59 runs.

The offensive explosion was extinguished in Omaha, but Wake has relied on clutch hitting and bulldog tenacity to pull out wins over Stanford and LSU. After not trailing in their first five NCAA games, Wake has trailed at the end of nine of the 18 CWS innings it has played through Tuesday night. The Deacs have led for just 10 total outs across the two games, pulling in front in the bottom of the eighth inning of both contests.

That’s been enough.

Wake scored 9.4 runs per game this season and 15 per contest in NCAA play, but the Deacs have scored just six total runs in two games in Omaha.

Stanford scored a run in the first and another in the third to take an early 2-1 lead. Two third-inning runs gave LSU a 2-0 lead early in the second game. Then the Wake pitching staff locked things down, not allowing another run in either game to help set the stage for the comebacks.

“Our pitching staff keeps us in it and throws up zeros,” said Wake coach Tom Walter. “We got down early in both the games and our staff just kept throwing up zeros after that, and we kept making big pitches and kept making plays.”

Wake’s defense also stepped up, with catcher Brock Lee making an impressive catch of a throw in the dirt to tag out a runner for a run-saving out in the eighth inning against LSU. Third baseman Brock Wilken was able to reach a ground ball that looked like it was going to get through the infield. He then made a throw from foul territory to set up Lee’s tag.

“Brock said the ball was literally still spinning in his glove when he went to throw it,” Lee said. “So just an unbelievable play to get the ball to me.”

With Wake’s pitching and defense keeping the Deacs in striking range late into both games, it was time for the bats to take the spotlight. Danny Corona hit a two-run single to put Wake on top against Stanford.

“I felt we were tight early and nervous and kind of got out of our plan offensively,” Walter said. “Didn’t have great at-bats, really, for the first seven innings. … But we did just enough.”

On Monday night against LSU—the only other team besides Wake that was still undefeated in NCAA play, as well as the only other team to hold the No. 1 spot in the rankings this season — Lee followed up his defensive gem in the top of the eighth with a go-ahead single in the bottom of the inning.

And with that, Wake has seemingly now won in every possible way, shutting out opponents, steamrolling them and snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

“We talked about it before the tournament started,” Walter said. “We do have the ability to win games in different ways because of all our pitching and defense, we can win the 3-2 game. Because of our offense, we can win the 8-6 or 10-8 game. That’s one of the things I really like about this club.”

That, and the team’s unwavering — almost unsettling — confidence.

“We’ve got some toughness to us,” Walter said. “That’s the one thing I said to the guys in the huddle before the game, I said, ‘They don’t know how tough we are.’ We’re a tough team, tough-minded team. We don’t quit. We don’t give up.”

Wake will next play on Wednesday, against the winner of a Tuesday elimination game between LSU and Tennessee.