WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The Deacs and Eagles delivered the drama Sunday in the series finale.
Fantastic fielding, clutch pitching and unique managing decisions in pressure situations highlighted a Wake Forest 5-2 win over Boston College at David F. Couch Ballpark, as the Deacs claimed the series to stay in sole possession of fourth place in the ACC.
“It was an important win,” Wake second baseman Jake Mueller said. “They are a scrappy team. It was a tough series. It was good to come out with a win.”
Boston College left the bases full in the 2nd, 7th and 9th innings.
Wake starting pitcher Connor Johnstone allowed to leadoff hitter to reach in each of the first three innings. He faced maximum trouble in the top of the 2nd, however.
Leadoff singles by Gian Martellini and Jake Alu put two on base, then Johnstone plunked Jacob Yish on a 2-1 pitch to load the bases with nobody out.
Having fallen behind early 3-0 Friday and 2-0 Saturday, the Deacs looked like they were about to dig themselves a hole for the third consecutive game.
But pitching and defense bailed the Deacs out. Right fielder Keegan Maronpot made a diving grab of a blooper for the first out. The runners were halfway on a ball they thought might drop and were unable to advance despite Maronpot being on the ground. Johnstone struck out BC shortstop Johnny Adams for the second out and Bruce Steel nabbed a liner to shortstop to finish the Eagles off without a run crossing.
“Give CJ credit for bouncing back,” Walter said. “They had the bases loaded and didn’t score. That’s a combination of really good defense and good pitching by CJ. That was really the ballgame. I thought the second inning was key to the game.”
Johnstone, who has a pair of complete-game shutouts this season, reached the 100 pitch mark with two outs in the top of the 7th and was pulled for Colin Peluse with two on and two out as the Deacs nursed a 4-0 lead.
“He’s added a cutter,” Walter said about Johnstone. “He’s got four legit pitches. We don’t have anybody on our team who can locate the fastball the way he does.”
“Of course. He’s undefeated,” Walter said when asked if Johnstone is the best Sunday starter he’s had at Wake. “Heck yeah. CJ is as good of a Sunday guy as there is in the country.”
Peluse and BC’s Donovan Casey had an epic 11-pitch battle. Early in the at-bat, Peluse delivered a wild pitch that was then tossed into the outfield by Wake catcher Ben Breazeale, allowing the first Eagle run to score.
The pitch sequence for this at-bat is nothing short of remarkable. Stike. Ball. Strike. Foul. Ball. Foul. Foul. Foul. Ball. Foul. Foul.
Wake pitching coach Matt Hobbs had seen enough.
After 11 offerings to Casey, and with a 3-2 count, Hobbs signaled form Wake closer Griffin Roberts to take over.
“Colin wasn’t getting his breaking ball over,” Walter said. “He was sitting fastball. We thought Griffin coming in and throwing a breaking ball was a good matchup in that situation.”
Roberts barely missed the strike zone with his first pitch and Casey reached on a walk. A single and a hit batter plated the second Eagle run in the inning, but Wake third baseman Johnny Aiello picked up a nifty short-hopper and fired to first for the final out of the inning.
Roberts was absolutely nasty in the top of the 8th, striking out the side in dominant fashion.
He then got himself back in trouble in the 9th. Three walks placed the tying and go-ahead runs on base, but Roberts struck out BC leadoff hitter Jake Palomaki to secure the series victory.
Stuart Fairchild was 2-for-3 at the plate, with two RBIs and a run scored. Jake Mueller also delivered a pair of hits in four ABs, scoring once. Jonathan Pryor delivered a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the 3rd for Wake.
Wake now leads UVA (14-10) by a full game for fourth-place in the ACC, and trails Clemson by just a single game (16-8). The Deacs have a road ACC series next weekend against Florida State (31-18, 11-12) then finish the regular season conference slate at home against Pittsburgh (8-14).
The Deacs will host High Point (15-18) at 6 p.m. Tuesday. They then travel to face Radford Wednesday before the Florida State weekend series.
“This was a huge game for us, but so is Tuesday and Wednesday,” Walter said. “We’re in contention to host (an NCAA Regional) and all the games are important.”