Stanford (19-13, 5-7 Pac-10) knew that UCLA’s (21-14, 10-5 Pac-10) main threat was its stellar rotation, especially junior starting pitchers Trevor Bauer (8-1, 1.47 ERA) and Gerrit Cole (4-4, 2.22 ERA), who are dominating the Pac-10.
“They’re phenomenal,” said Stanford head coach Mark Marquess. “Those are two of the best pitchers in college baseball, and they’ve proven it.”
Nonetheless, an unexpected offensive surge gave the Card a 7-4 win in the series opener, played Thursday night so that the series would conclude before Easter Sunday.
“We’ve struggled at the bat for two weeks, so it was unusual,” Marquess said of Stanford’s offensive display. “We haven’t really scored any runs and we have hit into a lot of double plays. This is the best we’ve swung the bat in about two weeks, and it was against such a good pitcher. This is a good sign.”
Sophomore righthander Mark Appel (3-4) threw the first seven innings for the Card and gave up only three runs on nine hits. As this season’s new No. 1 starter, Appel has been up against some of the top pitchers in the nation, and Marquess remains pleased with his progress and optimistic about his future.
“He’s really good,” Marquess said of Appel. “He’s going to be a great pitcher with great velocity. He’s a young guy learning how to pitch, but he has done a good job so far. Despite some tough draws, he has gone a minimum of six or seven innings against some of the best pitchers in the country, and I think he has learned a lot from them.”
Marquess’s sole complaint was the number of walks.
“We gave them a lot, and you can’t do that with such a good team.”
Fortunately for the Cardinal, Appel’s solid pitching performance was coupled with numerous home runs that widened the lead enough to secure the victory. Senior catcher Zach Jones was responsible for the first one, setting the Card ahead 3-0 in the second with a three-run, two-out home run. The homer was his third of the season.
“Jones has done a great job for us,” Marquess said. “He was really struggling early, but for the last week he has been the one guy who has hit. I’m really proud of him.”
Sophomore outfielder Tyler Gaffney sent Cole from the game with a two-run home run in the seventh, and sophomore utility Stephen Piscotty followed with a homer on the very next pitch from Bruin reliever Mitchell Beacom. Cole gave up a season-high six runs on nine hits in 6.1 innings.
However, Bauer compensated on Friday night when he tied his career high of 17 strikeouts, throwing a four-hitter in a 4-1 UCLA win that saw a combined 29 strikeouts from both teams.
Junior righthander Jordan Pries (4-4) struck out a season-best seven batters, but took the loss after giving up four runs on 10 hits in six innings.
A passed ball by Bruin catcher Steve Rodriguez in the third inning that allowed freshman Lonnie Kauppila to score from third after the Card loaded the bases. Yet, UCLA responded with runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings to lead 4-1 and even the series.
Then came Saturday, when Stanford bounced back in a thrilling conclusion to the series, with a four-run come-from-behind ninth inning rally to take the rubber match 5-4.
The Card produced only three hits off of the Bruin rotation until they had but two outs remaining. Then, trailing 4-1, freshman outfielder Brian Guymon lined one up the middle for his third hit of the night, and started a rally.
Next, sophomore pinch hitter Justin Ringo drew a walk, and sophomore center fielder Jake Stewart’s RBI single sent Guymon across the plate to cut the lead to 4-2. Jones drove a double into the corner in right to drive in Ringo and Stewart and tie the game at 4, sending UCLA reliever Nick Vander Tuig to the bench.
The Bruin closers continued to crumble though, as Zach Weiss then threw nine straight balls to load the bases. Sophomore shortstop Kenny Diekroeger, one of Stanford’s main offensive stars from the past two seasons, quickly stepped to the plate and hit a bloop single to center field to plate Jones and end the game in the team’s first walk-off win of the year.
Junior lefthander Chris Reed (2-1) got the win, and Marquess is especially proud of his progress this season.
“Reed has done a great job for us,” Marquess said. “He has solidified our bullpen as our closer, and he has really taken to that closer role nicely.”
Senior righthander Danny Sandbrink pitched into the sixth for the Cardinal in his first weekend start of the season, giving up only two runs on four hits.
The Card, now No. 21 nationally, stayed hot Monday night, downing visiting No. 20 California 9-5 on the strength of four Jake Stewart RBIs. Mark Appel pitched the first, Brian Busick (1-0) pitched the second, third and fourth to earn the win, and A.J. Vanegas pitched the fifth and sixth as Stanford built a 8-0 lead through six and improved to 9-0 in midweek games.
Tonight, Stanford visits Saint Mary’s (17-17), and will then travel to Arizona State (28-9, 11-4 Pac-10) this weekend for another tough three-game series. Fortunately, Stanford’s bullpen received a boost last week with the return of the formerly injured Busick. He will join classmates Snodgress and Reed in the bullpen.
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