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Deacs set to host first NCAA baseball regional since 2002

Wake Forest coach Tom Walter discusses the Deacs draw in the NCAA Baseball Tournament.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The Deacs learned Sunday night that they would host a NCAA regional, then found out a little after noon Monday what teams would be visiting them at David F. Couch Ballpark this coming weekend.

The Deacs will host No. 2 seed West Virginia (34-24), No. 3 seed Maryland (37-21) and No. 4 seed UMBC (23-23).

The four-team double elimination format regional will begin at 2 p.m. Friday with West Virginia facing Maryland. The Deacs will host UMBC at 7 p.m. that same night.

The tournament continues with a pair of games both Saturday and Sunday, with a possible final game Monday.

We spoke with Wake coach Tom Walter right after the brackets were announced.

On his general thoughts on the draw

Walter: “We’re thrilling to be hosting, first and foremost. We found that out last night. That was a big deal, and something that hasn’t happened here since 2002. It’s a big step forward for our program. We’ve talked over the last few years about building and developing a program with leaders and captains. This is the culmination of that — their hard work and leadership. We’re excited to get to play at home.

"As far as the draw, you’re always going to have good teams. West Virginia played well in the Big 12 Tournament. (West Virginia coach) Randy Mazey is from my home town. I’ve known him for a long time, and he’s a really good coach. He’s been to the College World Series as a player. He’s been there with Tennessee and Texas Christian. He has a lot of postseason experience.

“The No. 2 seed, Maryland, is a program that has been really good the last four or five years. They played in a super regional against Virginia. They’ve had a lot of success. Then UMBC, they ran through their conference tournament. They always have an offensive team. We’ll be in an offensive park.”

On talking about hosting a regional last fall and what he saw back then

Walter: “A couple things. One was the emergence of Griffin Roberts as a legitimate closer. Obviously, you can’t replace the production of a Will Craig with one person, but with Gavin Sheets, Stuart Fairchild, Ben Breazeale and Johnny Aiello — those guys in the middle of the order, I knew we’d have enough offensively.

“Also, defensively with Bruce Steel healthy at shortstop and Johnny moving to third, I knew we’d be a better defensive club. So I knew we were going to be at least as good offensively and better defensively, so then the question became pitching.

“The emergence of Connor Johnstone as a reliable starter and Griffin Roberts as a closer made the difference.”

On if he saw Johnstone’s jump as early as the fall last year

Walter: “We did. His velocity got better and he added a fourth pitch. That cutter has been a separator for him. His off-speed has always been below average for him, but now with the cutter it makes the breaking ball a better pitch.”

On not being able to pitch Donnie Sellers and Johnstone in the ACC Championship because of the early exit

Walter: “Nothing yet, and we haven’t decided who’s going to pitch Friday yet. We’re going to look at the scouting report, figure out what UMBC does well, and make a decision between Connor and Donnie for that. We’re not going to start Parker (Dunshee) Friday. We’re going to start him on Saturday. Those guys were fatigued, and could use a little break this time of year. Getting their bodies fresh will help.”

On the versatility of his team

Walter: “No question about it. We saw it in the conference tournament. We can score runs in bunches, but we can also beat you 2-1. We were disappointed we didn’t win the Miami game, but I’ll take my chances with Griffin Roberts on the mound and a one-run lead any day of the week. I look forward to us having a game like that this weekend, and look forward to that opportunity.”

On question marks heading into NCAA play

Walter: “Bruce Steel is a question mark right now. His back is a little banged up. I’d say that’s the biggest question — will we have Bruce Steel or will we have to go with Patrick Frick? Outside of that. . . is Connor Johnstone a question mark because his last couple outings haven’t been great and he hasn’t gone more than 3.1 innings in his last two. Getting a good start out of CJ and then Bruce Steel.”

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