A former North Stanly Comet stepped on the mound in Omaha on Saturday as Wake Forest’s baseball team played its first College World Series opener in 68 years.
Demon Deacons ace Rhett Lowder’s performance wasn’t the sharpest that he’d had this season, but the junior right-hander certainly helped his top-ranked team get the victory over No. 8 Stanford.
The Albemarle native — a two-time ACC Pitcher of the Year — allowed seven hits and two earned runs in 5⅓ innings before getting some assistance from teammate Danny Corona, who knocked in a go-ahead, two-run single in the eighth inning to give the Deacs a 3-2 win over the Cardinals inside Charles Schwab Field Omaha.
After a bumpy first inning in which the Cardinals scored a quick run, Lowder eased his way into a groove throughout the rest of his start, striking out six batters and keeping Stanford’s lineup at bay.
“I kinda just had to slow the game down. It was speeding up on me a little bit,” Lowder said after the contest. “I just had to keep making pitch after pitch, nothing crazy. I feel like I’ve been in some situations like that before where I don’t have my stuff. I just had to find a way to get outs and keep us in the game.”
Wake coach Tom Walter revealed that his team’s star pitcher hadn’t been feeling the best going into the game.
“He has been battling a little virus here for the last couple of days and didn’t have his good stuff,” Walter said of Lowder. “But he pitched into the sixth inning, and he gave us a chance to win like he always does. I was really proud of the way he battled.”
Lowder’s resilience under pressure is a testament to his rapid growth as a pitcher over the past few seasons.
Just a few years removed from his time at North Stanly, where he was not heavily recruited by major universities, the long-haired, 6-foot-3 right-hander is now expected to be one of the first pitchers selected in the 2023 MLB Draft as a top-10 pick.
His collegiate success didn’t happen at once.
While Lowder had compiled a dominating 21-3 record and 0.68 ERA in high school, he spent his freshman year with the Demon Deacons adjusting to the collegiate level of play, posting just a 6.12 ERA in 14 appearances as he struggled with his pitch speeds.
He flipped a switch in his sophomore season as he dialed up his pitch speeds across the board and cruised to an 11-3 record and 3.08 ERA.
As a junior, he has posted a 15-0 record, 1.99 ERA and 137-22 strikeout-walk ratio with his go-to arsenal of a fastball, changeup and slider. His fastball, which didn’t quite crack 90 mph early on, sits comfortably in a mid-90s range, and his mid-80s changeup continues to cause trouble for many opponents.
Recognized as the 2023 ACC Pitcher of the Year, a 2023 Collegiate Baseball first-team All-American, and receiving 2023 National Pitcher of the Year Finalist honors, Lowder was Wake’s first man up in its starting rotation entering Omaha and will continue to be going forward.
Still riding high with no losses in a double-elimination bracket, the Demon Deacons defeated No. 5 LSU on Monday night and will face LSU again on Wednesday and Thursday (if needed), where Lowder has the chance to pitch again.
The CWS finals are set to run from June 24-26.