Fried Rice: Ringo's walk-off KOs Owls in 10

Countless baseball teams have been able to hit, pitch, and field exceptionally well, yet have fallen short of winning a championship. That extra mile that separates a good season from a title-winning one seems to be a healthy dose of championship mojo. It's a certain flair for the dramatic, often unexpected, that transcends plain numbers.

Justin Ringo "Star" injected a dose of this magic into Stanford baseball's season Friday night with a mammoth walk-off blast in the bottom of the 10th inning to lift his team over No. 4 Rice, 4-2. The Cardinal, of course, hope that Ringo's glorious moment is the first of many for the team in 2012.

For now, though, it's one to savor.

Ringo, who struggled through 2011 with a team-low .125 average, didn't know he would play until about 40 minutes before first pitch. Ringo earned his first start of the season after leading hitter Jake Stewart was scratched due to an undisclosed reason.

"I was happy to get the chance to play, but I was nervous," Ringo said afterward. "With each at-bat, I got more comfortable out there."

The junior outfielder's nerves certainly didn't show in the bottom of the third inning, when he laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt on the first pitch of his at-bat to move two Stanford runners into scoring position, helping the Card tie the game, 2-2.

Seven innings later, with a runner on and the game deadlocked in the bottom of the 10th, Ringo came up again. His earlier sacrifice success might have suggested that another bunt would be in order, but Coach Mark Marquess decided to let his reserve swing away against dominant Rice reliever Tyler Duffey.

Good decision.

The resulting blast sailed high into the Stanford night, behind Sunken Diamond's right-field wall and toward Avery Aquatic Center. Ringo knew the ball was leaving the ballpark. He dropped his bat and raised his left hand skyward as the ball sailed out of sight. The festive Friday night gathering, which featured soon-to-be first round NFL draft picks Andrew Luck and David DeCastro, knew it too. The ballpark erupted in a roar reserved only for a game-ending mammoth blast, and the Cardinal came pouring out of the dugout to mob Ringo when he reached home plate.

Sunken Diamond, meet the magic of 2012.

"I just got a pitch that I liked and I hit it hard," an almost overwhelmed Ringo said after the game. "I can't even describe how good that felt."

For Stanford, the epic win felt like the missing puzzle piece to the team's 12-1 start. The Cardinal have been pulverizing opponents; they came into Friday's game outscoring teams 111-35. However, the club hadn't yet been forced to gut out a win, and they finally the got the opportunity to prove their mettle against one of the nation's best teams.

"It was great for the team to win a tight one like that," said starting pitcher Mark Appel, whose strong outing was almost lost in the hoopla surrounding Ringo's blast. After giving up two runs in the first inning, he clamped down on the Owls for the next eight, striking out a career-high 14. Appel's best inning was his last, as he struck out the side in the ninth with his 125th and final pitch of the night.

When that high pitch count finally forced Marquess to go to his bullpen, freshman closer David Schmidt and the Cardinal defense rose to the occasion. Newly converted catcher Eric Smith gunned down Michael Ratterree, who trying to steal second base, to preserve the tie in the top of the 10th inning.

"I pride myself on doing the small things right defensively," Smith said before the game. "I try to pay attention to details on defense."

This attention to detail is paying off for Stanford baseball, now that the team has proven that it can conjure magic in the clutch, too. Going forward, it's time for this club to maintain the mojo.


About the Author: David Lombardi is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years and is currently contributing to the Cardinal Channel. You can check several of his Stanford calls out at www.davidmatthewlombardi.com, where you can also read his West Coast-oriented blog via this direct link. For Stanford baseball insights, follow David on Twitter at davidmlombardi.


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