No. 2 Wake Powers Past Clemson

CLEMSON, S.C. — Wake Forest got home runs from Nick Kurtz, Justin Johnson and Chris Katz, plus a solid outing from starter Rhett Lowder, as the second-ranked Demon Deacons smashed Clemson, 8-3, Friday at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

“The three home runs were really the difference in the game,” Clemson head coach Erik Bakich said.

The victory marked the first time since 2016 Wake Forest opened a three-game series against the Tigers with a win. It was also the first time it opened a series with a win in Clemson since 2015.

Katz’s home run was a three-run shot with one out in the top of the eighth inning, while Kurtz’s and Johnson’s homers were of the two-run variety.

“Obviously, they are a very good team. We knew that going in,” Bakich said. “They have a dangerous lineup and a very good pitching staff.”

Will Taylor led Clemson with a 3-for-4 night at the plate, which included a double and two runs scored. Cooper Ingle was 2-for-4.

“We are facing a really great team, but we are a great team, too,” Taylor said. “That is why we play a three-game series. We have two games later this weekend. We are going to even this thing back out tomorrow.”

The Demon Deacons (24-3, 8-2 ACC) took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning thanks to Kurtz’ two-run shot to right field. The home run came off an 0-2 offering from Clemson starter Austin Gordon.

An error, plus Johnson’s two-run home run lifted Wake’s lead to 5-0 in the fourth inning.

The Tigers (16-11, 2-5 ACC) finally got to Lowder in the bottom of the sixth inning with two runs on two hits and an error. Taylor doubled with a blooper to center and then scored when Caden Grice dribbled a base hit up the third base line.

Trying to throw out Grice at first base, Lowder threw the baseball into right field, allowing Taylor to come all the way home from second. Grice came home with the Tigers’ second run of the night thanks to a sacrifice fly to centerfield by Blake Wright with no outs.

Though he suffered the loss, Gordon’s outing was not all that bad. He allowed just six hits in his five innings of work, while striking out six, as well. However, the two home runs to Kurtz and Johnson proved to be the righty’s downfall.

Gordon fell to 0-2 in six appearances.

“He is getting better,” Bakich said. “His outings have been better. I know he has given up some home runs, but in his last three outings he has been able to go seventeen innings – six, six and five. Last weekend, he was really good and really sharp. So, outside of the two home runs tonight, he has certainly been pitching better. We just have to find a way to not allow those mistake-pitches to be hit out of the ballpark.

“He does, he attacks. He fills it up. He was ahead of a lot of hitters tonight, throwing all of his pitches for strikes. So, we just got to be careful of the mistake-pitch, but I like the attack. I like the intent. I like the way he was going about it. Just a couple of pitches that got away from him that left the ballpark.”   

Lowder earned the win, as the Demon Deacons’ ace improved to 6-0 in seven starts this year. He went seven innings and threw 99 pitches. He gave up two runs off seven hits, while striking out six Tigers. He issued one walk.

The Tigers added a run in the bottom of the eighth, as Taylor came home on a sacrifice fly to center by Benjamin Blackwell.

Stat of the Game: Clemson did not get its first base runner in each of the first five innings, until there were two outs. Taylor ended that streak when he led off the sixth inning with a bloop double to center.

Player of the Game: Taylor went 3-for-4, scored twice and doubled.

Key Moment: Trailing 2-0 through three innings, a fourth inning error with no outs by Nathan Hall allowed the Demon Deacons to add three more runs to their lead. The error came off a Pierce Bennett double, which allowed Brock Wilken to come home. Still with no outs, a few pitches later Johnson homered to left centerfield for a two-run blast, extending the lead to 5-0.

Up Next: Clemson and Wake Forest will play Game 2 of their three-game series Friday at 6 p.m. Joe Allen will get the start for the Tigers.

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