Wake Forest, Duke advance to baseball super regionals

The Demon Deacons will host Alabama, while the Blue Devils travel to face Virginia

Chris Katz and the Demon Deacons rolled through the Winston-Salem regional and will host Alabama in a super regional. (Ben McKeown / AP Photo)

The only thing that could slow down Wake Forest on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament was the weather.

In between rain showers, the Demon Deacons stormed to their third super regional in school history, blowing out the competition in three lopsided games. It seemed the best strategy for the other teams in Winston-Salem was to keep the tarp on the field and the Demon Deacons in the clubhouse.

Friday’s opening game started more than an hour late after rain delays in the first game of the regional pushed back the start time. In front of a record-setting crowd of 3,823, the first sellout in the history of Wake’s home field, the Couch, the Deacs blew out George Mason 12-0. It was Wake’s 10th shutout on the year, the highest total in the nation, as starting pitcher Seth Keener set a team season-high with 13 strikeouts. At the plate, eight of the nine Wake batters got hits and seven of the nine scored runs.

The following night, Wake’s game with Maryland started at 10:45 p.m. after a 285-minute rain delay. The Deacs were ready to go, however, pummeling the Terps 21-6. ACC Pitcher of the Year Rhett Lowder struck out 11.

On Sunday, Wake finished its unbeaten run through the regional, topping George Mason 15-1 in a rematch. Wake fans sold out the Couch for the second time in three days, and the second time ever, as the Deacs finished a record-setting weekend. The 48 combined runs scored were second most in regional history, and their 16 runs per game average was a new record.

Wake now welcomes No. 16 Alabama to next weekend’s super regional, the first time the Deacs have hosted that round. The Demon Deacons and Crimson Tide will play a best-of-three series with a trip to the College World Series on the line. The Tide also enjoyed an unbeaten regional, beating Nicholls State 4-3, Troy 11-8 and Boston College 8-0.

Outside of Winston-Salem, the going was tough for teams from North Carolina on the first weekend of the NCAAs. The state sent a total of eight representatives to the tournament, but only two emerged from the regional round.

Duke was the last team other than Wake still playing, as the Blue Devils went into a deciding final game on Monday night against regional host Coastal Carolina, which Duke won 12-3 to advance to a super regional in Charlottesville against Virginia next weekend. The Blue Devils opened their tournament run with a 12-3 win over UNCW and then beat Rider 2-1. Despite playing on an injured knee, MJ Metz hit three home runs to lead Duke in the opening game. Duke broke a tie in the ninth inning to win their second game.

“We had to fight until the last pitch, but I thought our guys were tough,” said coach Chris Pollard.

The Chanticleers handed Duke its first loss with an 8-6 victory on Sunday, setting up Monday’s win-or-else rematch.

The opening game was the start of a short weekend for the Seahawks. UNCW lost to Duke, snapping a six-game winning streak. Coastal ended UNCW’s season the following day with a 12-2 victory. The Seahawks gave up a first inning grand slam and never recovered, finishing their season at 34-23.

“That’s part of baseball,” said UNCW coach Randy Hood. “You live and learn. You take some punches, and we’ll be back.”

Columbia, South Carolina, was the other region that saw two North Carolina teams. The Wolfpack opened the region with a 5-1 win over Campbell. NC State got two home runs, including one from the second batter of the game in LuJames Groover III, and its pitchers held the nation’s top scoring offense in check.

That was the high point of the NCAA run for the Wolfpack, who dropped their next two games. Against regional host South Carolina, the Pack fell behind 6-0 after giving up four in the fifth inning. They ended up dropping a 6-3 decision. That set up a rematch with Campbell, which scored in each of the first four innings to go up 8-0 and cruise to an 11-1 win that sent State home. It marked the first time the Wolfpack had been eliminated from an NCAA Tournament on the field since 2019.

When not playing State, Campbell had mixed results in its tournament run. The Camels bounced back from its opening loss to the Wolfpack with a 10-5 win over Central Connecticut State. A game-tying grand slam by Bryce Arnold in the seventh got Campbell’s offense on track and set up back-to-back five-run innings to lead the Camels.

After beating State in the rematch, the Camels were sent home by host South Carolina, who topped Campbell 16-7.

East Carolina went 2-2 in the Charlottesville regional, which was eventually won by host UVA. The Pirates opened with a 14-5 win over Oklahoma, who had been one of the last four teams to make the field as an at-large team. ECU then lost to UVA 2-1 but earned a rematch with the Cavaliers by beating the Sooners in a second game. The Pirates topped Oklahoma 8-5 but were then sent home by UVA, 8-3. Trailing 7-3, Jacob Starling just missed a game-tying grand slam as his deep fly ball was caught on the warning track to end an eighth inning threat.

Charlotte advanced to the sixth game of the Clemson regional despite losing its opening game to Tennessee, 8-1. The 49ers bounced back to beat Lipscomb 9-2 and then eliminated the host Clemson Tigers in a 3-2 upset. That set up a rematch with the Vols, who once again topped Charlotte by seven, winning 9-2. The two wins in the regional tied a school best, originally accomplished in 2007, and the win over No. 3-ranked Clemson matched the highest-rated opponent the 49ers have ever beaten.

The UNC Tar Heels fell in the Terre Haute region, losing to Iowa 5-4 in the opener. The Heels then bounced back with a 5-0 win over Wright State in an elimination game, but Iowa topped Carolina in a rematch 6-5 in a 13-inning marathon to end UNC’s season.