Wake Forest rallies late to win College World Series opener

Wake Forest’s Brock Wilken, left, and Nick Kurtz, right, celebrate after scoring on a single by Danny Corona against Stanford during the eighth inning of the Demon Deacons’ College World Series-opening 3-2 win over Stanford on Saturday in Omaha, Nebraska. (Rebecca S. Gratz / AP Phot0)

OMAHA, Neb. — Danny Corona hit a go-ahead two-run single in the eighth inning to roust a dormant Wake Forest offense, and the Demon Deacons opened their first College World Series in 68 years with a 3-2 win over Stanford on Saturday.

The No. 1 national seed Deacons were held to three hits and one run before storms in the area caused a 1-hour, 28-minute delay in the seventh inning.

When play resumed, the Deacons were able to squeeze out enough production to win their first game in Omaha since they won the national championship here in 1955.

“We call ourselves the king of delay,” Brock Wilken said. “Every time we have a delay we come out with so much energy, and our vibe is immediately switched.”

Wake Forest turned a double play to end the game, prompting closer Camden Minacci to pump both of his fists and do a little dance in front of the mound while infielders did jumping chest bumps.

The Deacons (53-10) will play Monday against LSU. Stanford (44-19) plays Tennessee.

Seth Keener (8-1), the third of four Wake Forest pitchers, struck out four of the five batters he faced and earned the win.

For four innings, Stanford starter Joey Dixon held down an offense that outscored its first five NCAA Tournament opponents 75-16 — the biggest run differential ever for a team heading into a CWS — and averaged 9.4 runs per game for the season.

Dixon, who gave up a homer to Wilken and two singles, got out of a bases-loaded situation before he turned the game over to Drew Dowd at the start of the fifth. Dowd retired all six batters he faced, but he didn’t come back out after the delay.

“I felt we were tight early and nervous and kind of got out of our plan offensively,” coach Tom Walter said. “Didn’t have great at-bats, really, for the first seven innings. Give credit to the Stanford pitching. Dixon and Dowd did a great job and kind of held us at bay. But we did just enough.”

Nick Dugan got out of a mini jam in the seventh, but he walked Nick Kurtz to start the eighth. Left-hander Ryan Bruno (2-2) came on and walked Wilken. Both moved up on Justin Johnson’s sacrifice before Corona ripped a grounder up the middle to score both and give him 19 RBIs, most in the tournament.

“I told our team at the end, if we break it down to the smallest level, they got two guys on, they got a bunt down and a base hit,” Stanford coach David Esquer said. “They executed in order to win that ball game. You’ve got to give them credit for doing that.”

The Deacons were able to use the delay as an opportunity to reset. Esquer went to a concourse concession stand to buy a hotdog, and the players kept things loose in the clubhouse.

“We obviously don’t want to point the finger at any delay or any single play,” Carter Graham said. “We tried to keep our rhythm and momentum. We were playing hacky sack in the locker room, trying to stay together and have a good time because that’s what we’re here to do.”

Wake Forest improved to 18-0 when ace Rhett Lowder starts. The projected first-round draft pick struggled with his command, but still had six strikeouts against one walk and limited Stanford to two runs before he left with one out in the sixth.

“He’s been battling a little virus the last couple of days and didn’t have his good stuff,” Walter said. “But he pitched into the sixth and gave us a chance to win like he always does.”

Stanford used two hits and a walk to load the bases in the first inning, and Lowder was on the verge of getting out of the jam when he hit Malcolm Moore with a 2-2 pitch to force in a run.

After Wilken hit his 31st homer of the season on his 21st birthday, tying him with Florida’s Jac Caglianone for the national lead, Carter Graham singled in a run in the third to put Stanford up 2-1.

Stanford stranded five runners in scoring position against Lowder, and the Cardinal lost other chances to add to their lead when reliever Sean Sullivan picked off Temo Becerra and Tommy Troy at first in the sixth and seventh innings.

“We had plenty of opportunities throughout the day with runners in scoring position,” Esquer said. “Could have got that same hit and widened the gap or extended the lead.”