Who’s the Pack playing?
Opponent: Wake Forest
Mascot: Exorcism Inducers | School Location: Cigaretteville, NC | Conference: ACC
2023 Record: 26-4 (10-2, 1st Atlantic) | 2023 RPI Rank: 6
2022 Record: 41-19-1 (15-14-1, 3rd Atlantic) | 2022 RPI Rank: 15
2021 Record: 20-27 (10-22, 6th Atlantic) | 2021 RPI Rank: 88
When? Where? How do I watch?
Location: David F. Yo Couch Ballpark (Winston-Salem, NC)
Game Time(s): Fri, Apr 7 @ 6:00pm | Sun, Apr 9 @ 12:00pm | Sun, Apr 9 @ TBD
TV: Friday (ACCNX), Sunday Game 1 (ACCNX), Sunday Game 2 (ACCNX)
Radio: The Varsity Network (Friday | Sunday)
Live Stats: Stat Broadcast
Tell me about this team
Regardless of your thoughts on Wake Forest, you have to take a moment to applaud Tom Walter for the job he’s done this year with the Demon Deacons. This is, without a doubt, the best team the university has had since at least 1955 (kinda hard to say it tops that National Championship team unless this group, too, can accomplish that feat).
Wake Forest won the ACC Tournament three times in a four year span between 1998 and 2001 under former coach George Greer, and made five straight Regionals from 1998-2002, including one Super Regional (1999). The program fell off a cliff in Greer’s last two years and Rick Rembielak was only able to push the program to one winning ACC season and one Regional appearance in five seasons. In came Walter for a rebuild - and it took him a while to get it done.
The Demon Deacons didn’t reach a Regional under Walter until his 7th season and didn’t post a winning ACC record until Year 8, which happened to be the first Super Regional appearance for the program since 1999. The three full season after that Super Regional, though, made one wonder if Walter had hit his high-water mark.
This is where the kudos to Walter come in. The man dove head-first into an analytical-oriented philosophy to player development. It’s all the rage these days, but it’s still mostly lip service for a lot of coaches when push comes to shove. That hasn’t been the case with Wake Forest, as everything the program does is around producing lab-built freaks who can destroy baseballs and/or prevent others from doing so. I’ve said it before, but the program sells out for power in all aspects.
That’s not typically a philosophy that’s going to pay off every year because there are a lot of variables that can cause your monsters to go off the rails - and you can look at Wake’s 2021 season to see how it can go wrong. But when it goes right... oh, man, does it go right!
The 2023 Wake Forest team features two projected 2023 MLB Draft 1st round picks (Rhett Lowder, Brock Wilken), likely had a third before a season-ending injury (Teddy McGraw), but has another who is working his way up into that conversation with his play this year (Sean Sullivan). There is one guaranteed 2024 1st rounder on the team (Nick Kurtz), but two others are on the bubble there (Josh Hartle, Michael Massey). Potentially having six 1st round picks over a two-year span is great for any program, but it’s a stupidly absurd level of great for a program with the track record and recent history of Wake Forest.
Talent is great, but what sets this team apart for me - aside from the depth - is the patience the hitters are showing this year. This lineup is being far more selective at the dish, resulting in a team walk rate that is 2.35% higher than last year and 5.20% higher than 2021. The increased plate discipline has also allowed the team to cut down on the number of strikeouts (down 1.14% from last year).
Oh, yeah, and having a pitching staff that can bludgeon you to death is nice to have, I guess...
Who’s on the mound for these guys?
Friday: RHP Rhett Lowder (JR)
Saturday: LHP Sean Sullivan (SO)
Sunday: LHP Josh Hartle (SO)
1B Nick Kurtz (SO) - .345/.500/.747, 21.2 BB%, 22.9 K%, 1-1 SB. A big 6’5, 235 pound lefty who does nothing but crush pitches and bang b...aseballs. Best all-around hitter on the team. Projected Top 10 pick for 2024.
LF Adam Cecere (rJR) - .356/.505/.836, 21.1 BB%, 26.3 K%, 1-1 SB. Another 6’5, 230+ pound lefty hitter. Just a freakishly good athlete. Was a 3-time All-State QB in high school in Pennsylvania. Likely moving up draft boards as he’s showing his 2022 breakout campaign was no fluke.
CF Tommy Hawke (SO) - .397/.517/.534, 19.0 BB%, 17.7 K%, 7-8 SB. Undersized dude (5’8, 155) who is originally from Oak Island and looks like it. The 2022 Freshman All-American and every year Name All-American is a really good all-around player with fantastic bat skills. He understands his game and is a groundball/linedrive oriented hitter.
3B Brock Wilken (JR) - .313/.455/.732, 17.9 BB%, 20.0 K%, 0-0 SB. I wasn’t as huge on Wilken as a lot of others before this season due to a high strikeout rate and defensive concerns at third base, but he’s answered the former very well this year and - aside from a six game blip in early March - his defense has been solid this year. He’s a 6’4 RHH power machine.
RHP Rhett Lowder (JR) - 6-0, 1.40 ERA, 45.0 IP, 4.5 BB%, 30.7 K%. Big arm, big stuff, big hair. Projected Top 15 pick this year. Has allowed more than one earned run in just one of his seven starts. He’s in-line for his 2nd straight 1st Team All-American campaign, although he may not win his 2nd straight ACC Pitcher of the Year Award thanks to competition from...
LHP Sean Sullivan (SO) - 4-1, 1.77 ERA, 35.2 IP, 5.7 BB%, 45.0 K%. Northwestern transfer with a bit of a funky delivery from his 6’4 frame. He’s been absolutely dominant this year, striking out double-digit batters in four of seven outings. Draft-eligible this year.
LHP Josh Hartle (SO) - 6-1, 1.71 ERA, 42.0 IP, 4.3 BB%, 39.3 K%. High school teammate of Hawke at Reagan High School. The 6’5 pitcher has been a starter for Wake since he stepped on campus, although he did have some struggles last year. Not the case this year as he’s pushing past the “projectable” label and showcasing his stuff in full. Has a five pitch arsenal, which isn’t fair.
RHP Seth Keener (JR) - 3-0, 1 SV, 0.69 ERA, 26.0 IP, 5.7 BB%, 35.2 K%. Split time as a starter and reliever last year, but is excelling in a relief role this year. He control has improved dramatically. Has seven siblings.
RHP Michael Massey (SO) - 2-0, 0 SV, 3.20 ERA, 19.2 IP, 9.1 BB%, 46.8 K%. Tulane transfer who was a starter last year with mixed results. Absolutely obliterating opponents as a reliever right now where he can sell out for even more velo and spin. If he can carry that over to being a weekend starter next year, he’ll be an easy 1st rounder.
RHP Cole Roland (SR) - 0-0, 1 SV, 1.93 ERA, 14.0 IP, 14.0 BB%, 45.6 K%. Dartmouth transfer that not many expected to be a key contributor this year, but has been excellent aside from the walk rate. Ten of 12 outings have been scoreless.
RHP Camden Minacci (JR) - 0-0, 7 SV, 3.75 ERA, 12.0 IP, 5.7 BB%, 34.0 K%. Feels like Year 7 for this kid, but it’s only Year 3. Got touched up by Clemson in his last outing but has otherwise been fantastic all year.
Quick! Fun Facts!
Wake Forest has not been to the CWS since their National Championship season of 1955. They also made the CWS in 1949 when it was held in Wichita, Kansas.
The Demon Deacons last ACC Regular Season title came in 1963. They also won the Regular Season title in 1955 and 1962, as well as the Southern Conference title in 1949.
There have been nine 1st round MLB Draft picks in Wake Forest history; four of them have played under Tom Walter.
All three starting pitchers for Wake Forest are on the midseason Golden Spikes Award Watch List.
Outcome: Wake takes two of three.