WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The Deacs earned a three-game sweep over Notre Dame (15-20, 7-11) Sunday with a 5-1 victory at David F. Couch Ballpark in front of a little less than a thousand fans on Easter afternoon.
“We knew today was going to be a tough ballgame,” Wake Forest coach Tom Walter said. “They had their guys (pitching). We knew runs would be tough to come by. We knew we’d have to play good baseball to win.”
The win not only gave the Deacs (28-10, 12-6) their first ACC sweep of the season, but also clearly signaled the evolution of the program.
“You have to win games like this, especially as you head into the postseason,” Walter said. “You have to play tight games and find a way to win those games. The last three Fridays, we’ve won 2-1 twice and 4-3. Those have been tight ball games where we’ve had to make plays, make pitches and have clutch at-bats. We’ve been able to do that against good clubs and good pitchers.”
These Deacs can rake, no doubt about it, but they can beat you in many ways. In recent years, most Wake wins came through brutal bludgeoning.
Sunday, however, the Deacs won with pitching and defense.
Connor Johnstone went seven innings as the starter for Wake, and he made a legit run at a third complete game shutout of the season.
“He’s been great,” Walter said about Johnstone. “He’s undefeated and giving us a chance to win every time out. He added that cutter in the offseason, and added velocity. He’s made himself a pro prospect. There’s no question he’s going to play pro baseball. He’s earned it.”
The Irish scratched across a run in the 7th after Daniel Jung doubled off the wall in left field to score Cole Daily. Wake left fielder Jonathan Pryor tracked the fly and ultimately crashed into the wall chasing it. Pryor was shaken up, but remained it to finish the game.
Johnstone scattered five hits on the day and let his defense do the work, as they erased three Irish baserunners with a trio of double plays in the middle innings. Johnstone also tallied a career-high eight strikeouts while earning the victory.
“The defense saved me in the first three innings,” Johnstone said. “Without them, I would have been out in the 4th.”
Closer Griffin Roberts did what Griffin Roberts is expected to do, though he struggled with control early. He walked the first two batters he faced to begin the top of the 8th, but ultimately settled in after a conversation with pitching coach Matt Hobbs.
“We turned a couple of big double plays,” Walter said. “I thought both those guys made pitched when they needed to with runners in scoring position.”
Though pitching and defense carried the day for Wake, make no mistake about it — these Deacs can still pound the ball. That’s what makes them such a potent and dangerous team. They can win in so many ways.
Sunday, the Demon Deacon batters delivered three home runs. Stuart Fairchild hit his 11th of the season on what seemed like a lazy flyball to right field that just drifted and drifted until it ultimately bounced of the “Acura” sign over the fence for a round tripper.
Johnny Aiello and Jonathan Pryor, however, both delivered monstrous blasts that would have been home runs in nearly any park and in any weather conditions. Aiello’s was a lined shot that went 441 feet to left field. It was his 13th homer of the season.
Pryor went 429 feet to one of the deepest parts of the part in right-center field for his third dinger of the season.
Wake touched up Notre Dame starter Brad Bass for all five runs in the first five innings, but Irish reliever Sean Guenther was dominant. He went 3 ? innings, allowing just three hits and one walk while striking out three Deacs. No Wake player made it past second base during his time on the mound.
The win wrapped up a five-win week for the Deacs as they swept a Notre Dame squad that came to Winston-Salem winners of its last five and eight of its last 10.
Wake will host Charlotte (20-16) at 6 p.m. Tuesday before traveling to No. 4 Clemson (30-6, 14-3) for a three-game series that starts Friday.