Freshman Brock Wilken Delivers Win For Wake Forest
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- This season, Wake Forest is like so many other teams around college baseball in that it returned a lineup filled with proven contributors.
With players like first baseman Bobby Seymour, outfielders Chris Lanzilli and Michael Ludowig, catcher Shane Muntz and shortstop Michael Turconi back in the fold, the Demon Deacons are not hurting for guys who have gotten it done at this level.
So it’s a bit of a surprise, then, that it was a freshman taking charge to lead Wake Forest to an 8-6 win against Northeastern on Opening Day.
Trailing 6-5 in the bottom of the eighth after the Huskies had taken the lead on a wild pitch in the top half of the frame, freshman third baseman Brock Wilken stepped to the plate against closer Brandon Dufault, a low-slot slinger who gets incredible tailing action on his fastball, and connected for a two-out, three-run home run to left field to put his team on top.
The newcomer knew he hit it well, as he celebrated it not only on his way to first base but while he was rounding third to greet his elated teammates at home plate, the energy you would expect from a freshman bursting out of him with each step.
“That was honestly the sickest moment of my entire life so far,” Wilken said.
It’s also not a surprise, given the overwhelming nature of a moment like that, that even just a few minutes after it happened, it wasn’t exactly the clearest memory for him.
“I remember hitting it, and then next thing I know, I’m rounding first and then next thing I know I’m rounding third and next thing I know I’m with my teammates,” Wilken said. “So it’s, like, in and out moments. It was so cool. It was so cool.”
For coach Tom Walter, it was really no surprise that it was Wilken coming through in that spot. He has been impressed with the freshman, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound product of Valrico, Fla., who was No. 354 in the BA 500 going into the draft, from the moment he stepped on campus.
“(I) just can’t say enough about Brock Wilken and what he’s shown us early this year,” Walter said. “Obviously today coming up in that situation, to put that good of a swing on a guy that’s got a good sinking fastball and stay inside that ball and hit it out of the ballpark, just a clutch, clutch at-bat.”
For much of the game, it didn’t look like the Deacons would need saving late in the game, because they couldn’t have asked for a much better start.
In the bottom of the first, those aforementioned returning stars were right in the middle of a quick rally. With Turconi on at first and one out, Lanzilli lined a double into left field, Seymour drew a walk to load the bases and Muntz connected for a grand slam to left to put the team on top 4-0 in the blink of an eye. Two innings later, a Ludowig RBI double made it 5-0.
At the same time, third-year sophomore righthander Ryan Cusick came out of the gate flying, showing why major league scouting directors voted him a Preseason All-American and is a potential first-round pick this summer.
Through four innings, he had punched out eight batters, allowing just two hits, and he looked dominant at times, using both his fastball in the mid-to-high 90s and a low-80s breaking ball effectively to put away hitters.
But things shifted in the middle innings. In the fifth, Cusick’s command started to waver for the first time and Northeastern put some pressure on him, putting two men on via walks with two outs. But once again, Cusick came through, getting a strikeout of leadoff man Scott Holzwasser to get out of trouble.
In the sixth, though, the dam broke, and the Huskies touched him up for three runs on four hits in the frame, with the big blow coming on a two-run double from left fielder Jeff Costello. With the deficit now just 5-3, NU had some belief. It was a good day for Cusick overall, but he wasn’t the best version of himself in that last inning of work.
“I thought I did a poor job of communicating with him in the sixth inning,” Walter said. “I probably should have taken that (mound) trip in the sixth, just to let him know that this was his last inning. I think he was, maybe, trying to save a little something to get into the seventh.”
Just as the Northeastern bats had come alive, Wake’s had gone silent. In fact, after the third inning, the Deacons’ only hit was the Wilken home run. That combination of events led to a 5-0 Wake Forest lead turning into a 6-5 deficit, but that simply set the stage for Wilken’s heroics. If you’re going to have a lead evaporate in that way, after all, you may as well make a comeback in dramatic fashion.
As far as first impressions go, Wilken’s was about as good as it gets. In addition to his go-ahead home run, he laced a double in his first collegiate at-bat two batters after the Muntz grand slam.
Coming out of high school, scouts lauded his power as being his best tool, with some believing it has plus-plus potential. That came through in a big way on Friday, and Walter has a feeling that not only will there be more of that to come, but some of those same scouts will regret not selecting them when they had the chance to draft him in 2020.
“I thought we had a good chance to lose him (in the 2020 draft),” Walter said “I think there are going to be a lot of Florida area scouts that are going to have some hard questions to answer in three years when he’s high up the board and we’ve got some general managers calling their Florida guy and saying ‘how come you didn’t have this dude in three years ago?’”