Wake Forest sends LSU into College World Series losers’ bracket

Published 11:14 pm Monday, June 19, 2023

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A few minutes after he made the defensive play of the game, Bennett Lee delivered the hit that put Wake Forest on the inside track to the College World Series finals.

The Demon Deacons came from behind to win a second straight one-run game at Charles Schwab Field, beating LSU 3-2 on Monday night in the game that determined control of their bracket.

Wake Forest is 7-0 in the NCAA Tournament and bidding to become the first No. 1 national seed since 1999 to win the championship.

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“Every single guy is having the time of their lives right now,” said closer Camden Minacci, who got the last five outs. “Who can beat us? It seems pretty much impossible. So the amount of fun we have is truly incredible.”

Lee, the Deacons’ catcher, made a spectacular play in the top of the eighth when he snagged third baseman Brock Wilken’s bouncing throw and tagged out Tre’ Morgan to keep the game tied 2-all.

“Brock Wilken made a great play to get to the ball, and Bennett was there with an unbelievable pick and tag under pressure,” Deacons coach Tom Walter said. “It was a huge play in this ballgame.”

After Danny Corona lashed Thatcher Hurd’s breaking pitch down the right-field line for a double in the bottom half, Lee followed with a base hit into left that brought Corona home.

Next up for Wake Forest (54-10) is a Wednesday meeting with the winner of a Tuesday match-up between SEC rivals LSU (49-16) and Tennessee. The Tigers beat Tennessee 6-3 here Saturday. The Deacons would have to lose twice to be denied a spot in the finals.

Tennessee beat Stanford 6-4 in an elimination game earlier Monday.

LSU starter Ty Floyd limited the Deacons to two hits and matched his career high with 10 strikeouts before he lost his command in the sixth inning. He walked the first three batters, prompting coach Jay Johnson to call on Hurd (6-3) to face the national home run co-leader Wilken.

Wilken sent a ball up the middle for an RBI single, and the tying run came home when Justin Johnson hit into a double play.

The Tigers opened the scoring against Wake Forest starter Josh Hartle in the third. Tommy White singled in a run and scored from second when Morgan tripled on a fly ball left fielder Adam Cecere lost in the sun.

Hartle went six innings and struck out nine, running his season total to a Wake Forest-record 140.

The Deacons turned back the Tigers in the eighth when things looked dire. LSU had runners on the corners with none out after Morgan doubled down the line and moved over when Hayden Travinski reached on an error.

Wilken backhanded Cade Beloso’s grounder down the line, double-pumped and bounced a throw home to Lee, who put the tag on Morgan on a close play that stood up on video review.

“As soon as the ball was hit, I took off,” Morgan said. “I knew he would have an awkward throw, so I tried to get a bit over to get in the way, but he made a great play.”

Lee said the stage was set during a mound visit when Walter told Lee to let Wilken know to throw home if the ball comes his way.

“And then Beloso hits a little squibber, and that was actually a really good play by Brock,” Lee said. “He said the ball was literally still spinning in his glove when he went to throw it. And from my perspective, I’ve done millions of picks in my life and I just took over.”

The inning ended when Wilken picked up Gavin Dugas’ grounder to start a double play.

Johnson, the LSU coach, said such a tough loss can be deflating, but he reminded his players that the Arizona team he coached in 2016 lost its second game at the CWS and then won three straight to make it to the finals. In 2017, Paul Mainieri’s LSU team lost its second game and reached the finals as well.

“I have all the faith in the world in our team, that we can do that,” Johnson said. “So let’s stick to what we do. And if we do that well, then we’ll be in a good spot.”

Monday, June 19
Tennessee 6, Stanford 4 (Stanford eliminated)
Wake Forest 3, LSU 2
Tuesday, June 20
1 p.m. ESPN – Oral Roberts vs. TCU
6 p.m. ESPN – LSU vs. Tennessee
Wednesday, June 21
1 p.m. ESPN – Florida vs. Oral Roberts-TCU winner
6 p.m. ESPN – Wake Forest vs. LSU-Tennessee winner