If you’ve already written off the Wake Forest baseball team as a legitimate contender to win the ACC and make a return trip to the College World Series, now might be the time to reevaluate the situation.

Maybe not in Sharpie. Not yet.

But after sweeping a 3-game weekend series against Atlantic Division-leading Clemson last weekend, a team that came in ranked as high as No. 2 in at least 1 national poll, you can at least pencil Tom Walter’s Deacons back onto the short list of teams capable of making a deep postseason run.

That’s exactly where they were expected to be after getting within a game of the national championship series a year ago and starting this season as a consensus No. 1.

Their route to get here was just a little more circuitous than planned.

OK, a lot more circuitous.

It started with Wake losing 3 of its first 4 ACC series and dropping to 2-7 in the conference as it worked to figure out how to fit all its new pieces into the lineup.

That’s all a distant memory now. The Deacons won 9 straight prior into Thursday’s series-opening loss at NC State to play themselves back into contention to host an NCAA regional at a raucous David F. Couch Ballpark, where they’re 25-7 this season.

For all of their early season struggles, they’re finally starting to resemble the team they were hyped to be.

At just the right time.

If that sounds familiar, it should. It’s a similar path to the one traveled by LSU, the team that broke their hearts in such dramatic fashion in Omaha just 1 year ago en route to winning it all.

Proving once yet again that the journey isn’t nearly as important as the destination.

Like this Wake team, those 2023 Tigers started the season atop the national polls and were billed as a super team. They had the nation’s best pitcher, eventual No. 1 overall MLB Draft pick Paul Skenes, and 2 of the best hitters in fellow 1st-round pick Dylan Crews and former NC State slugger Tommy “Tanks” White. Skenes and Crews became the first set of teammates to be selected No. 1 and No. 2 in draft history.

And like these Deacons, they were prematurely written off as a disappointment after a midseason slump that saw them lose midweek games to Louisiana and Nicholls, drop back-to-back SEC series to Auburn and Mississippi State, and make an early exit from the SEC Tournament.

The struggles prompted headlines such as the one that ran on a Saturday Down South story on the eve of the NCAA Tournament:

Why weird baseball history suggests a super team like LSU is heading toward heartbreak.

It wasn’t that LSU’s stars were falling short of expectations.

Skenes was virtually unhittable. Crews was hitting everything in sight. And White was well on his way toward hitting 24 tanks and driving in an SEC-leading 105 runs.

It took until their supporting cast began to carry their share of the load that the Tigers finally started to roar.

Wake’s current trajectory has been fueled by the same set of circumstances.

Its stars have been shining all along.

First baseman Nick Kurtz is putting up 1st-round numbers, hitting .322 with 20 homers and 50 RBIs with an OPS of 1.303. Transfer Chase Burns has solved his command issues and is blowing away hitters to the tune of a school-record 156 strikeouts in only 82 innings. Fellow transfer Seaver King is living up to his promise by hitting .323 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs.

The key to the Deacons’ late-season resurgence has been the production provided by those around them.

Especially on the mound.

With a team ERA of 5.06, the pitching staff is giving up over 2 runs more than the one that led the nation with a 2.86 mark last season.

In spite of Burns’ brilliance.

But over the past few starts, co-ace Josh Hartle appears to have regained the form that helped him win 11 games in 2023. Fellow weekend starter Michael Massey is set to return this week from a back issue that has bothered him for a large portion of the season. And the bullpen has begun to shut teams down now that it’s roles have developed and embraced.

The offense has gone through a similar process.

It took the first half of the season for Walter to find the right combinations for a batting order that returned only 1 other starting position player, shortstop Marek Houston, from his CWS team. Once he did – with sophomore Jack Winnay providing a reliable bat to hit behind Kurtz, senior DH Jake Reinisch blossoming into a leader in the middle of the lineup and freshman Antonio Morales adding some unexpected pop – the Deacons began to live up to their Rake Forest persona once again.

Just in time for when it matters most.

Wake sits in 4th-place in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. But because the standings are so tight it could still earn 1 of the top 4 seeds in next week’s conference tournament with a strong finish in Raleigh this weekend.

And at 36-17, playing their best baseball of the season, the Deacons could also be in line to host an NCAA regional and take their 1st steps on the road back to Omaha at home.

No matter where or who they play, they’re a team no opponent is going to want to see in the postseason.

Just like LSU was a year ago.