WINSTON-SALEM, NORTH CAROLINA — Wake Forest’s bats left no doubt.
The Demon Deacons bashed West Virginia 12-8 in baseball Sunday night at Couch Ballpark, delivering plenty of offense to sweep their way to the NCAA super regional round for the first time in 18 years.
Stuart Fairchild belted two home runs, including a grand slam, and Ben Breazeale homered as Wake Forest completed the minimum amount of work required to claim this regional, notching a third straight victory without a loss.
THE DEACS ARE HEADED TO THE SUPER REGIONAL! pic.twitter.com/PLy1qA0xpT
— Wake Forest Baseball (@WakeBaseball) June 5, 2017
This one was achieved in smashing fashion, the Demon Deacons, the top seed in this four-team regional pod, pounding out 16 hits and Fairchild, the junior center fielder, driving in six runs while becoming one of two players in school history to supply a multi-homer game in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s a special experience,” Fairchild said. “Scoring in both the first two innings, that’s huge to grab some of the momentum.”
It ended with Wake Forest closer Griffin Roberts retiring the Mountaineers in order in the bottom of the ninth inning. He fanned Jackson Cramer and Kyle Davis for the last two outs, setting off a mobbing celebration on the field that culminated in a dogpile of Demon Deacons.
“First time for me winning something big,” Roberts said. “It’s just awesome. I can’t really explain it. It’s just really fun to have your brothers to be that excited for you.”
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 5, 2017
Wake Forest (42-18) next will face either Florida or Bethune-Cookman in a best-of-3 series. That will mark the Demon Deacons’ first super regional appearance since 1999. The winner there advances to the College World Series.
West Virginia (36-26), the second seed here, lost to Wake Forest for the second time in as many nights and essentially reached the Sunday night matchup on fumes after winning an elimination game against Maryland earlier in the day.
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Wake Forest never trailed in this regional clincher, jumping ahead five batters into the game on Breazeale’s run-scoring single. That was followed by Johnny Aiello’s run-scoring single for a 2-0 lead.
The lead was 4-3 when the Demon Deacons erupted for six runs in the top of the fourth inning. Fairchild launched a laser out to left field with the bases loaded, the first grand slam for Wake Forest in the NCAA Tournament since 2002.
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 5, 2017
“I wasn’t trying to do too much in that situation,” Fairchild said. “I was thinking worst-case scenario, get a ball in the air and get a sac fly, but luckily I got a good bit of it and it went out of the park.”
Two batters later, Breazeale’s two-run homer made it 10-3 in Wake Forest’s favor.
“Hitting is contagious, man,” West Virginia coach Randy Mazey said. “They start hitting and they can taste victory and super regional and all that. They all caught fire there.”
Fairchild wasn’t done with the yard work. In the fifth inning, he stroked a two-run homer the opposite way out to right field that put the Demon Deacons ahead 12-6.
“I felt pretty confident that we were going to win after that point,” Fairchild said.
West Virginia closed the gap to 12-8 in the bottom of the eighth inning on a two-run double from Ivan Gonzalez. Roberts, who finished Wake Forest’s defeat of the Mountaineers a night earlier, then retired Darius Hill on a called third strike to end the threat with runners at second base and third base.
“We scored two and had an opportunity to score a couple more right there,” Mazey said.
Jake Mueller finished with four hits and Aiello added three hits for the Demon Deacons.
Mueller’s run-scoring double made the lead to 4-1 in the bottom of the second inning. Wake Forest already had rapped six hits by that early juncture and looked poised to produce in a big way.
West Virginia’s Kyle Gray had a two-run homer. That came in the bottom of the second and moved the Mountaineers within 4-3. While it was sent deeper — and off a flagpole — that ball traveled to the same area in right-center field where Wake Forest slugger Gavin Sheets mashed his game-winning, walk-off hit Saturday night in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The Mountaineers’ pair of run-scoring doubles in the bottom of the fourth, provided by Gonzalez and Cole Austin, cut the Demon Deacons’ lead to 10-6.
Wake Forest coach Tom Walter said Fairchild’s two-run homer in the top of the fifth, the opposite-field shot, was “a huge momentum swing” after West Virginia had cut its deficit to 10-6.
Walter praised reliever Colin Peluse, saying he “calmed the game down” after entering for starter Donnie Sellers in the fifth inning. Peluse (4-1), a freshman, worked three perfect innings — nine up, nine down — before Davis singled and T.J. Lake doubled to start West Virginia’s bottom of the eighth.
“It’s for sure the biggest moment I’ve ever been a part of in my whole baseball career,” Peluse said afterward, as he considered the extra meaning behind the Demon Deacons’ victory.
This article is written by Adam Smith from Times-News, Burlington, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.