WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The Deacs ended 15 years of futility Saturday, besting North Carolina State in a three-game series for the first time since 2002.
It didn’t come easy.
After blowing a four-run lead in a game one loss in Saturday’s doubleheader, the Deacs (12-5, 2-1) surrendered a five-run advantage in the nightcap before plating the walk-off winner in the bottom of the 11th inning in a 6-5 victory over North Carolina State (8-8, 1-2).
“I didn’t realize that. That’s disturbing,” Wake Forest coach Tom Walter said about the Deacs dry spell against the Wolfpack. “Hopefully we can make some corrections on that in the future. It’s a big win. You need to hold serve at home. It’s so hard to win games in this league, especially on the road. You have to win at home.”
“It’s way better to win that way than 5-0,” Walter jokingly said about the dramatic, extra-inning victory. “I have about 50 more gray hairs and it took probably a month off my life, but I’ll trade that for a victory. It’s a big win and I’m proud of our guys.”
The Deacs carried a 5-0 lead into the 8th inning and starter Donnie Sellers was cruising.
Two base hits and a hit-by-pitch loaded the bases in the top of the 8th for the Wolfpack, then Sellers walked Josh McClain on a 3-2 pitch that gave NC State its first run.
Walter went to closer Griffin Roberts, not wanting to take any chances with the lead in such a vital conference contest.
Wolfpack second baseman Will Wilson took Roberts’ very first offering deep over the left field fence for a game-tying grand-slam home run.
“Give credit to Wilson. Griffin hung a get-ahead fastball,” Walter said. “He laid one in there and Wilson didn’t miss it.”
Evan Mendoza then drove a 2-0 pitch into the left-center field gap for a double, putting the go ahead run on second base with just one out, but Roberts settled in and struck out the next two batters.
“Really proud of Griffin with how he battled after that. Griffin got two big outs after that, then got six more outs after throwing three innings yesterday,” Walter said. “For him to go out there and battle like that, and keep us where we had a chance to win is very impressive.”
Sellers was saddled with a no decision after throwing 7 ½ innings, striking out six and walking two. He gave up four hits and was charged with four runs — all earned.
“He was great. He was throwing three pitches for strikes. He got his change-up and breaking ball going in the middle innings,” Walter said. “His pitch count was down too. He was cruising along. He ran into a little trouble in the 8th, but Donnie was fantastic. If we can get outings like that out of Donnie every Sunday, we’re going to be in business.”
The Deacs thought they had the walk-on winner in the bottom of the 10th. Gavin Sheets walked with one out, and Johnny Aiello moved him to third with a two-out single. Aiello stole second with Bruce Steel at the plate, before Steel hit a sharp grounder that looked like it was going to bound through the middle for a base hit.
Instead it bounced high off the front of the mound, and Wolfpack shortstop Joe Dunand made a play on it in stride and nipped Steel with the throw to first for the final out of the inning.
“Dunand made a great play on that. He had a great break on it and made a great throw,” Walter said. “It came up for him. If it had taken one more bounce, we probably win it right there.”
Roberts went 2 ? inning, striking out five in his stint before coming out having thrown 46 pitches. John McCarren took over to start the 11th inning, and threw a perfect six-pitch frame.
McCarren earned the win after taking the loss in the first game of the doubleheader.
“You don’t see that very often, but give credit to that young man. He wanted the ball,” Walter said. “He’s a guy we want out there with the game on the line. I’m proud of how he responded in the second game.”
Stuart Fairchild led off the Demon Deacon half of the 11th with a bang, driving a 2-2 pitch into the right-center field gap.
“I was looking for a pitch in the zone that I could do some damage,” Fairchild said. “He threw it belt-high, kind of in the middle. I got a good swing on it, and it made it to the track.”
The Wolfpack then walked Sheets and Ben Breazeale intentionally to load the bases. Aiello drove a 1-0 pitch to center field for a sacrifice fly that scored Fairchild for the walk-off victory.
“I was just trying to elevate something. When he got behind 1-0, I assumed he was going to throw a fastball,” Aiello said. “I just wanted to lift it, and was successful.
“This year, we kept our cool and thought we were going to win it the whole time.”
Walter said the way the Deacs battled through adversity shows how far the program has come.
“This is a game we might have lost in the past, but these guys believe in each other,” Walter said. “They believe in themselves and kept their heads up in the dugout. They were behind each other and with each other. Win or lose, we’re going to do it with each other.”
The Deacs surrendered 10 free passes while giving away an early four run lead in an 8-5 loss in the opening game of the doubleheader.
The Wolfpack scored four runs in the top of the 6th while failing to hit a ball out of the Wake Forest infield. John McCarren got the first two NC State batters out before things completely went off the rails. The Wolfpack scored four runs on two infield hits, one error, two wild pitches and four walks — two of which came with the bases loaded.
“We had two slow rollers that weren’t easy plays, but were plays we can make,” Walter said. “It’s not like they were hitting us around, we just kind of beat ourselves.
“It was a tough one to swallow. That’s uncharacteristic of the guys we had out there.”
That inning turned a Wake 5-4 lead into a 8-5 deficit and ended the scoring.
Wake plays at High Point (8-6) at 4 p.m. Tuesday before traveling to Duke (10-8, 2-1) for a three-game conference series next weekend.