Wake Forest Impresses Again With Win At Louisville

Image credit: Tommy Hawke (Photo courtesy of Wake Forest)

All season long, Wake Forest has simply taken care of business. Practically nothing has thrown the Demon Deacons off track throughout the spring, pushing them to the top of the ACC standings and to No. 3 in the Top 25, their highest mark in the 40-year history of the rankings.

So, it’s no surprise that Wake on Friday came out firing on all cylinders to start its biggest weekend to date this season, a series at No. 10 Louisville. The Demon Deacons delivered an impressive offensive performance, pounding out 16 hits, including five home runs, to roll to an 11-5 victory.

Wake’s big offensive night came against one of the ACC’s top pitching staffs. Louisville (25-8, 7-6) came into the day with a 3.85 team ERA, fourth best in the conference and 18th nationally. Starter Ryan Hawks was coming off the best start of his career last Thursday, when he held Boston College to one run in eight innings. At the start of Friday’s game, Hawks kept the Deacs in check, working around a leadoff hit in each of the first two innings to put zeros on the scoreboard. But you can only hold the Wake offense down for so long.

In the third inning, as the Deacs (30-4, 13-2) went through their lineup for the second time, the offense was unleashed. A one-out double from leadoff hitter Tommy Hawke ignited the rally, which included back-to-back-to-back home runs from Brock Wilken, Pierce Bennett and Justin Johnson. Wake scored five runs in the inning, ending Hawks’ day and taking control of the game. The Deacs kept coming, scoring six more runs over the next two innings to pad their lead and roll to victory.

Hawke finished the game 4-for-6 with a double, a home run and three runs. Johnson homered twice and went 3-for-4. Outfielder Lucas Costello added three hits and two runs. In all, eight of the Deacs’ nine batters collected at least one hit and six scored at least once. It was a total team effort at the plate.

“The bats were clearly the difference,” coach Tom Walter said. “It seemed like every time Louisville answered, we answered right back.”

The offensive outburst was nothing new for Wake, which entered the day 10th in the country in scoring (9.3 runs per game). Hawke is now hitting .390/.497/.537 with 14 doubles to lead the team. Wilken’s home run was his 16th, the most in the ACC, and he is hitting .315/.466/.758.

As well as Wake hit Friday, the effort it got on the mound was also significant. Because of bad weather last weekend, Wake’s series against North Carolina State was condensed to a Sunday doubleheader. The Deacs used All-American Rhett Lowder, their typical No. 1 starter, in the first game of the doubleheader, and he threw 99 pitches. Wake opted not to bring him back on short rest Friday at Louisville, opting instead for typical No. 2 starter Sean Sullivan, who threw 70 pitches in relief Sunday.

Sullivan is a standout pitcher in his own right—he’s 5-1, 2.05 on the season and projects as a top-three round draft pick—but to be playing a top-10 team on the road on a Friday night without your ace going is not necessarily a comfortable spot. Sullivan held Louisville to three runs on five hits and no walks in 3.2 innings, striking out three before turning the ball over to Seth Keener. The relief ace struck out six batters in five innings and held the Cardinals to two runs (one earned) on one hit and one walk.

“We don’t throw Rhett Lowder, Sean Sullivan was pitching on short rest,” Walter said. “I was certainly worried about that, but I give Sully a ton of credit. He went out there and battled. He got us big outs. He got us the lead and then Seth Keener took over from there. He was really good.”

Keener improved to 5-0, 0.77 with 47 strikeouts and eight walks in 35 innings. He’s made 13 appearances (two starts) and as good as the Deacs’ rotation of Lowder, Sullivan and lefthander Josh Hartle has been, Keener’s reliability and versatility has helped make it one of the nation’s elite pitching staffs.

Wake on Friday became the second team in the country to reach 30 wins on the year, joining Virginia (South Carolina followed soon after). It’s the second-fastest team in program history to reach the 30-win mark, trailing only the 1949 Deacs, which did it in 32 games.

Wake now holds a five-game lead over Louisville in the ACC’s Atlantic Division and is 2.5 games up on Virginia (30-5, 11-5) in the race for the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. It’s won nine straight ACC games and with just one more win this weekend in Louisville, the Deacs will clearly be in the driver’s seat for their first ACC title since 1963.

Wake doesn’t need this weekend to prove itself. Its play in the first half of the year had already more than justified the preseason hype. But if the Deacs do finish the job in Louisville and become the first team since 2021 Miami to win a series against the Cardinals at Jim Patterson Stadium, they will truly have cemented their credentials as national title contenders.

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