OMAHA, Neb. – Wake Forest showed why it’s the NCAA Tournament No. 1 national seed on Monday night. In a matchup of the only two top-ranked teams this season, the Demon Deacons relied on pitching and defense against a potent LSU offense in the College World Series.
The Demon Deacons prevented LSU from scoring the go-ahead run in the eighth inning. The Tigers had runners on the corners with no outs and the middle of the lineup up. Brock Wilken threw out LSU’s Tre’ Morgan at home, and then closer Camden Minacci induced a ground ball for a double play to keep the Tigers off the scoreboard.
The series of events shifted the momentum in Wake Forest’s favor. It also left the door open for the Demon Deacons to seize the lead. Catcher Bennett Lee’s run-scoring base hit in the bottom of the eighth inning led Wake Forest prevailing 3-2 over LSU at Charles Schwab Field.
“How can we lose? Every guy is having the time of their lives right now,” Minacci said rhetorically. “Who can beat us? That seems almost impossible. The amount of fun that we have is truly incredible.”
Early on, LSU (49-16) seemed destined to prevail in the matchup between college baseball’s top two teams. The Tigers scored two runs on a Tommy White single and a Morgan triple with two outs in the third inning.
LSU starting pitcher Ty Floyd was dealing on the mound. He overpowered Wake Forest’s offense in the first five innings, primarily due to his ability to locate and generate swings and misses with his mid-90s fastball.
Floyd was nearly unhittable through the first five innings, allowing no runs and tallying 10 strikeouts. But it all changed in the sixth inning. Floyd walked the first three batters, and LSU coach Jay Johnson pulled him in favor of righty reliever Thatcher Hurd.
Wilken’s base hit to center field and a fielder’s choice led to two runs. In the inning, the Demon Deacons (54-10) used four walks, one hit batter and one hit to even the score at 2-2.
“Sometimes you get out of a groove,” Floyd said. “I lost a little bit of command, and I think I got a little tired.”
The eighth inning was the Tigers’ best chance to score after their two-run third inning. Morgan led off with a double down the right field line, and Hayden Travinski reached on an error.
With runners on the corners, the Demon Deacons brought the corners in. The decision paid off, as Cade Beloso hit a ground ball to Wilken at third base. He moved to his right to field the ball and threw it home as his momentum carried him away from the bag. It was a close play at home, with Lee sticking the tag on Morgan’s hand.
“We were in red, which means I go on contact,” Morgan said. “As soon as the ball was hit, I took off. I knew he was going to have an awkward throw, so I tried to get a little bit over to get in the way. But, he made a great play.”
Lee came through offensively in the bottom half of the eighth inning, driving in Danny Corona from second base on a hard-hit ground ball through the left side of the infield. With a one-run lead, Minacci recorded two strikeouts and a weak ground out in the ninth inning to move the Demon Deacons one win away from playing for a national champion.
“It’s a veteran club, and we have some toughness to us,” Wake Forest coach Tom Walter said. “We’re a tough team, and we are a toughminded team. We don’t quit, and we don’t give up.”
Wake Forest starting pitcher Josh Hartle allowed two runs on four hits and four walks while striking out nine batters in six innings.
Floyd was impressive early for LSU before running into trouble in the sixth. He finished with 10 strikeouts while allowing two runs on four walks and two hits in five innings.
LSU faces Tennessee at 6 p.m. CT Tuesday, while Wake Forest will face the winner of the LSU-Tennessee matchup on Wednesday night.