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A deep dive into Wake Forest's early struggles

Last year, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons were one win away from reaching the championship series in Omaha before dropping two in a row to LSU — the eventual national champions.

As expected, Tom Walter’s team entered the 2024 season with perhaps the highest expectations of any team in the country. The program was even tabbed as the favorite to win their first national championship since 1955 by a number of renowned sportsbooks.

The 13-6 record may not be cause for alarm in the eyes of many fans, especially when you consider that the Demon Deacons’ two series losses are courtesy of two teams within College Baseball Central's top-25 rankings. However, a deeper look at the program’s statistics uncovers a myriad of underlying struggles.

Offensively, things have not come easy for Wake Forest, who is currently boasting a batting average of .281 good for 13th. No, not 13th in the country but of the 14 teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Demon Deacons grade out a little better in terms of scoring, but still profile as a middle-of-the-pack offense through five weekends of play.

Ball State transfer Jack Tellier — who leads the team with a .380 batting average — and Wingate transfer Seaver King (second on the team with 25 hits) have been pleasant surprises for the Demon Deacon offense. Sophomore infielder Jack Winnay leads the team with nine home runs, while Marek Houston continues to build on the strong beginning to his collegiate career.

However, All-American first baseman and team captain Nick Kurtz has struggled to get going thus far. Of nine qualifying players, Kurtz’s .241 batting average is good enough for No. 8 on the team. While his on-base percentage of .475 ranks third among qualifiers, the Demon Deacons need Kurtz to find consistency with the bat if they hope to make another run to Omaha.

On top of his offensive struggles, Wake Forest must find a Kurtz replacement after it was announced that their unquestioned leader will miss the next three to four weeks after suffering a shoulder injury in the team’s series against Virginia. Winnay finished the weekend as the team’s first baseman, but don’t be surprised to see Walter run out another new lineup as the season progresses.

The Demon Deacons reignited a star on the mound in two-time ACC Pitcher of the Week Chase Burns, who ranks second in the NCAA with 56 strikeouts. His 2.08 ERA is also good enough for the fourth best in the ACC and third amongst starters in the conference.

But outside of Burns, it has been a massive struggle for the Wake Forest staff — which has come as a shock to thee college baseball fans of the world.

Similar to Kurtz, 2023 All-America Josh Hartle has struggled to find his footing throughout the first month of the season. His 6.26 ERA is a far cry from the line of 2.81 he set just last year, which has proved costly in the team’s two Friday night losses. 

Hartle and Burns — who boast a combined record of 7-1 — have not received much assistance from their bullpen, who have combined for a record of 6-5. While Michael Massey and William Ray both boast a sub-3.00 ERA, no other Wake Forest pitcher currently has an ERA below 3.50.

Things will not be getting any easier for the Demon Deacons either, with four more series against ranked opponents — and another midweek matchup with Coastal Carolina — highlighting the team’s remaining schedule. At the time of writing, the program’s schedule is ranked as the 18th toughest schedule in the NCAA.

Due to name value alone, Wake Forest will be a team to watch in a highly-contested ACC Championship race and they still have a great shot to host an NCAA Tournament Regional. However, if the Demon Deacons’ want to reach their more lofty goals, a number of improvements must be made. Walter and Co. have proven they can make the necessary adjustments to right the ship, so give the team time before making any rash judgments about their national title hopes.

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