Rhett Lowder of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons throws a pitch against the Pittsburgh Panthers in the fifth inning during the ACC Baseball Championship at Durham Bulls Athletic Park on May 25, 2023 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)
By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network
DURHAM, N.C. – Rhett Lowder may be a bit of a raw talent, occasionally wild as young pitchers can be, but he showed his talent to be as advertised.
Lowder, widely predicted to be among the first 10 players selected in July’s Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, was steady if not spectacular, effectively complimenting his fastball and with a slider over seven innings of work for Wake Forest. The junior allowed just one run on three hits, striking out six and walking two as the Demon Deacons topped Pitt 10-2 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Thursday in the ACC Baseball Championship.
“He didn’t have his best stuff, didn’t have his good change up but you know seven innings one run will take that all day long,” said Wake Forest head coach Tom Walter. “[The] first two innings, he didn’t locate his fastball really well. And then I thought he settled into the game and started to move his fastball around and pitch off his slider.”
After allowing a leadoff double off the right field wall to Pitt third baseman Sky Duff to lead off the game, Lowder, the 2023 ACC Pitcher of the Year, struck out Jayden Melendez. A double by Noah Martinez allowed Duff to score from second, but that was all the offense Pitt would muster against Lowder. The Panthers only had four men reach base after the first inning, with none getting beyond second.
Lowder threw a season-high 105 pitches, with 70 of them for strikes, and only allowed four runners to reach scoring position. After walking Jack Anderson and Kyle Hess to lead off the bottom of the fourth, Lowder rebounded by striking out C.J. Funk on three pitches and then inducing Justin Acal to ground into a 5-3 double play to end the inning.
Following the game, Walter recalled with a smile the conversation between Lowder and assistant coach Corey Muscara, saying, “He told Muscara, ‘My pitch count’s getting high, I’ll just get us a double play ball, we’re good.’ And three pitches later, a double play ball and we’re in the dugout. So it must be nice if it’s that easy.”
Lowder hemmed and hawed as to whether he predicted a ground ball, but teammate Brock Wilken happily confirmed it during the press conference.
The Demon Deacons would get all the runs they needed in the top of the first. Lucas Costello’s RBI double scored leadoff man Tommy Hawke, then Costello scored on Justin Johnson’s sacrifice fly to center. Nick Kurtz scored from second on Pierce Bennett’s RBI single later in the first to give Wake Forest a 2-0 lead.
Wilken, who went 3-for-4, hit a solo homer to lead off the top of the fourth, and had a double and another run scored in the top of the fifth. The junior third baseman reached base five times in six plate appearances, including getting hit by a pitch in the sixth and a walk in the eighth.
Bennett Lee had a two-run homer for Wake Forest in the top of the third and Danny Corona had one of his own in the top of the ninth.
Logan Evans took the loss for Pitt, which finished the season 24-30. Evans threw three innings and gave up six runs on seven hits.
Wake Forest is the first top seed to advance to the semifinals since the current format of the ACC Baseball Championship was adopted. Should the Demon Deacons win on Saturday, they would be the first No. 1 seed to advance to the ACC Championship game since 2013, when North Carolina advanced to the championship game and won the title.
The Demon Deacons (46-9) will face eighth seeded Notre Dame Friday evening at 7 p.m. and either Miami or N.C. State in the semifinal game on Saturday.
Friday at the ACC Baseball Championship
11 a.m. – (7)Boston College vs. (3)Clemson (Pool C)
3 p.m. – (5)Duke vs. (4)Miami (Pool D)
7 p.m. – (8)Notre Dame vs. (1)Wake Forest (Pool A)