Wake Forest offense proves to be too much for the Crimson Tide pitching


Courtesy of UA Athletics

Alabama runner Chris Robinson runs the 400mh on June 9 at NCAA Championships in Myers Stadium in Austin, TX

Michael DeVito, Contributing Writer

Thirteen years ago, the Alabama Crimson Tide came within just one win of the College World Series, falling to the Clemson Tigers. Thirteen years later, the best team Alabama has put on the diamond in years played in the super regionals once again, but was defeated by Wake Forest in two games June 10-11.  

Game one 

In a battle of the aces, right-hander Luke Holman (7-3, 3.46 ERA) toed the slab for the boys in crimson and gray with the undefeated Rhett Lowder (14-0, 1.77 ERA) going for the Demon Deacons in front of a packed house.  

“We are fairly used to playing in front of big crowds,” interim head coach Jason Jackson said. “It’s something we feed off of.” 

On the first pitch of Holman’s afternoon, Deacon leadoff hitter Tommy Hawke came up big. A no-doubter over the right field wall and off the scoreboard put Wake Forest up on just the first pitch of the game. This season,  Wake Forest outscored opponents 91-15 in the first inning, and Hawke showed why they are the best team in the country. Holman bounced back and was able to get out of the first inning limiting the damage to just a lone long ball.  

Once again, the Demon Deacons were able to hit off of Holman, this time in the bottom of the second. Justin Johnson led off the inning by barreling one up and sending it over the right center field wall, doubling the Deacons’ lead to 2-0. Following Johnson’s homer, Pierce Bennett reached on a single; Bennett later reached second by tagging up on a fly ball to center field and then scored from third on a wild pitch, putting the Deacons up 3.  

Junior Caden Rose got the Crimson Tide on the board in the top of the third with a solo home run of his own. Rose’s home run over the left field wall left in a hurry, accompanied  with a bat flip admiring his shot.  

With already two outs in the inning, catcher Dominic Tamez worked a hard walk off Lowder, bringing up third baseman Colby Shelton as the tying tun. With his 23rd home run of the season, Shelton brought Alabama even, a rarity for Lowder as the Crimson Tide jumped for two home runs early off the right-hander. In the top of the fourth, Alabama tied Wake Forest at 3 all.

“He [Lowder] has done a good job, but he hasn’t had his good fastball command,” Wake Forest head coach Tom Walter said in a mid-inning interview. “We got to keep grinding and put pitches on him [Holman]. 

After a controversial check swing call on two strikes in the bottom of the fifth, Demon Deacon Danny Corona got a hold of one, homering to right field to give the Demon Deacons the lead. Drama followed as the third base umpire received an earful from the Alabama dugout for the bad call. An ejection followed for Matt Reida, one of the Alabama assistant coaches.  

Wake Forest added on to its lead in the bottom of the sixth. Adam Cecere’s RBI single right back up the middle brought home Brock Wilken from third, making it 5-3 Deacons. The RBI ended Holman’s afternoon after just 5.2 innings and 104 pitches, making way for sophomore Aidan Moza.  

Having a day for himself, Rose launched again with his second solo home run of the afternoon, bringing the Crimson Tide closer at 5-4 in the top of the eighth. Alabama failed to bring home Tommy Seidl, who led off first base as the tying run. A scoreless Crimson Tide ninth ended the game 5-4 in favor of the Demon Deacons. Alabama’s season now lay in the balance heading into game two. 

“This was a really, really good college baseball game. …There were 23 strikeouts and one walk between the two pitching staffs, so a pretty well-played game from both sides,” Jackson said.“They got us today, but we’ll be back at it tomorrow.”  

Game two 

In a do-or-die game two for the Crimson Tide, Jackson gave the ball to his veteran right-hander Jacob McNairy (7-2 3.68 ERA). Wake Forest head coach Walter trusted Josh Hartle (10-2 2.83 ERA) to send his squad to the College World Series.  

A disastrous start for McNairy ensued in the first inning when he was responsible for three runs. Once again, Hawke led off for the Demon Deacons with a base hit. With one down, Nick Kurtz got Wake Forest on the board early in the first with a two-run home run to right field. The damage wasn’t done with the Kurtz long ball; four-hole hitter Wilken struck and connected with a solo shot of his own to left field, putting Wake Forest up 3-0.  

Shortstop Jim Jarvis led off the Crimson Tide in the bottom of the first with an important leadoff double after going 4-for-35 since the SEC tournament began. Down in a hole already, Alabama veteran Andrew Pinckney answered back with a home run of his own in the bottom of the first. His long ball down the left field line pulled the Crimson Tide within 1, making it a 3-2 ballgame. 

Hawke continued his hot super regional with another home run. A two-run home run off McNairy down the right field line brought home Bennett Lee, who had walked, increasing the Deacons’ lead to 5-2.  

The home runs continued for the Crimson Tide when freshman star Shelton put up a blast of his own to keep Alabama close, but still down 2. In his 24th of the season, he hit it over the right-field wall. However, on the slab, McNairy needed a shutdown inning to keep the Crimson Tide in it.  

However, it was liftoff once again in the third inning for Wilken, his second home run of the afternoon on his second at-bat. He took an elevated pitch in the zone and did not miss it, a 430-foot blast, making Wake Forest up 6-3. Giving up a base hit next, McNairy’s day was over in just the third inning as he exited his final start in a Crimson Tide uniform after surrendering four home runs in just 2.1 innings on the mound.  

His replacement, Kade Woods, faced Corona who blew the game open with a three-run blast. Hunting for a two-strike slider, Corona blasted it straight to center field. Lee followed Corona with a home run of his own, the third of the inning and the second time that Wake Forest hitters have gone back-to-back on the day. The solo blast over the left field wall put Alabama in a 7-run hole, down 10-3.   

“He [Hartle] has got hurt on cutters and cutters he’s left up, he got a big shut down inning for us right there,” Walter said in a mid-inning interview. 

In a big spot for Bennett, he guided the ball past a diving Jarvis for a two-run RBI single, scoring Wilken and Lucas Costello, burying the Crimson Tide 12-3. With runners at first and second, the Crimson Tide managed to escape the inning trailing by 9.  

Shelton, with his second home run of the afternoon and third on the series, would not go down without a fight, making it 12-4. However, his two-out home run was not built on by the Alabama offence as they trailed by 8 with just nine outs to play with.  

Guscette got the Crimson Tide going in the seventh with a perfect start. His leadoff homerun over the left field wall brought Alabama within 7 and a 12-5 ballgame. Yet again, the Alabama bats did not capitalize on the leadoff homerun.  

A Wake Forest 10-run finish in the eighth and ninth innings, capped off with a grand slam, nailed the coffin shut on the Alabama season. The 22-5 loss eliminated the Crimson Tide from the College World Series.  

“I’ve done this a long time, and I’ve never been more proud of a group of individuals than I am of this group,” Jackson said. “I think they are everything that is good about college athletics. I think they are everything that is good about the world today. The character they’ve shown and the resiliency they’ve shown these past couple of months, I think serve as a great example to hopefully a lot of people.” 

In a season of controversy and grit, Alabama grinded its way to its first super regional in 13 years and brought postseason baseball back to Tuscaloosa for the first time since 2006. Many faces will not return to the Alabama lineup in 2024 and many new faces and stars will emerge to get this team over the hump and back into the College World Series.