After taking a break for finals, the Stanford baseball team played seven games over spring break. From Mar. 19-21, the Cardinal (12-6) swept a three-game series at home against Pepperdine (8-14). It then fell to Pacific (14-7) on Mar. 23, losing by a score of 9-4. Last weekend, Stanford hosted USC for its first Pac-10 series of the year and took two out of three games from the Trojans (12-12).
Stanford’s three games against the Waves were a showcase of offensive firepower. The Cardinal tallied a total of 30 runs in the series.
In the first game, Stanford took the win in walk-off fashion for the fourth time this season, pulling out a 9-8 victory at Sunken Diamond. Junior catcher Zach Jones’ hot hitting led the Card, as he went 4-5 and hit the game-winning single. In his first game hitting from the leadoff spot, freshman outfielder Tyler Gaffney notched two hits.
The Card did receive significant help from poor fielding by Pepperdine. The Waves committed four errors in the game, and only five of the Card’s nine runs were earned.
While Pepperdine held the lead for much of the game, Stanford mounted a three-run rally to tie the game in the eighth inning before getting the walk-off victory.
Though Stanford’s offense was very strong, its pitching seemed determined to keep the Waves in the game. Stanford pitchers issued 10 walks and hit four Pepperdine batters. Sophomore starter Brett Mooneyham left the game after five innings, giving up three runs while walking five and striking out five.
Fielding mistakes also hurt Stanford, with three errors committed by Stanford’s defense.
In the second game of the series, Stanford’s pitching and defense were much stronger. Sophomore starter Jordan Pries threw 116 pitches en route to a complete-game shutout of Pepperdine. He gave up just two hits and two walks while striking out six.
Offensively, Stanford was led by junior shortstop Jake Schlander, who had four RBIs on two hits. Overall, the Cardinal offense scored 10 runs, including eight off Pepperdine starting pitcher Matt Bywater.
The next day the Cardinal completed its sweep with an 11-6 win. Freshman third baseman Kenny Diekroeger led Stanford’s offense with four RBIs, including a home run. Gaffney was the Card’s second offensive leader, contributing two more RBIs.
“[The freshmen] are starting to take on larger roles and fill some holes we had earlier in the season,” Jones said.
“Having so many freshmen, we didn’t know who we were early in the season,” Schlander added. “It was a process of figuring it out and growing. Recently, the freshmen have stepped up.”
While it couldn’t match Pries’ earlier performance, the Cardinal pitching staff held up well against the Pepperdine offense. Sophomores Scott Snodgress and Chris Reed and freshman Mark Appel gave up six runs on 8.2 innings pitched combined.
Stanford’s fourth game of spring break came on the road in Stockton, Calif. against Pacific. Despite getting 14 hits, Stanford fell 9-4, leaving 14 runners on base over the course of the game. The Cardinal offense was led by Jones, who had two RBIs. Indeed, Jones has emerged as one of Stanford’s top threats recently.
“Early in the season I didn’t have my timing down,” he said. “Over the break I was able to take a lot of extra swings and work out the kinks.”
After the improvements made against Pepperdine, Stanford’s pitching slid backwards against the Tiger offense. Mooneyham, the starter, pitched only 0.2 innings. Overall, the Card used six pitchers, none of whom stayed in for longer than 2.1 innings.
Stanford also committed two fielding errors, including one by junior second baseman Colin Walsh that led directly to runs for Pacific. Four of the Tigers’ nine runs were unearned.
Stanford looked to rebound against USC. Despite dropping the first game, the Cardinal came back strongly and took the games on Saturday and Sunday.
The first game saw the Cardinal offense turn in another solid performance. The first three hitters in the order – Walsh, Jones and Gaffney – combined for eight hits and four RBIs.
“It’s always important for the top of the lineup to get on base,” Jones said. “Before spring break we basically weren’t scoring in the first inning.”
“Hitting and scoring are contagious, so if we can get on base it sets the tone for the rest of the lineup,” he continued.
Through the fifth inning, Stanford held a slim 8-7 lead over the Trojans. However, USC pitching shut down the Cardinal lineup for the remainder of the game. Trojan pitcher Shuhei Fujiya was especially effective, allowing only one run in three innings en route to earning the win.
Meanwhile, Stanford’s pitching continued to struggle, as did its defense. Appel, the starting pitcher, gave up six runs (all earned) in 2.2 innings while issuing four walks. Snodgress, who came in to relieve Appel, was similarly ineffective, allowing five runs (also all earned) in 2.2 innings. The Cardinal defense also committed two errors in the game, one of which led to a USC run.
Stanford lost to USC by a final score of 13-8. The Trojans pulled away with a four-run rally in the sixth inning and added two more runs in the eighth to put the Card away.
“Friday’s game we played pretty badly,” Schlander said. “We kept ourselves in the game but we know we should have given a better effort [and] at least it shows that our team has some pretty good fight in it.”
The next game, on Saturday, ended with another walk-off victory for Stanford. The teams battled back and forth all game before the Cardinal finally took the game in the ninth inning with another clutch hit from Jones. He delivered a two-out single with the bases loaded to finish off the Trojans. The final score was 5-4.
Pries turned in another strong performance on the mound, giving up four runs in seven innings of work while throwing 121 pitches. Sophomore reliever Brian Busick closed out the game with two scoreless innings and earned his second win of the season.
With the series up for grabs on Sunday, Stanford turned in its strongest game of the series, winning 3-1 over the Trojans. Uncharacteristically, the Cardinal rode its pitching to victory.
Leadoff hitter Walsh was Stanford’s top threat at the plate, with three hits and two RBIs in four at-bats. USC’s pitching was generally effective, with starter Andrew Triggs giving up three runs in his 6.1 innings of work.
After his rough outings against Pepperdine and Pacific, Mooneyham bounced back very well. He started the game for the Card and gave up only one run on three hits in six innings. Junior Alex Pracher relieved Mooneyham and pitched three shutout innings at the end of the game, bringing his record to 4-0 on the season.
“Our hole the whole season is that our pitching hasn’t been up to par,” Jones said. “I know we have the arms to do well, so it was huge for those guys to step up so we could salvage the series.”
“You always want to start Pac-10s well. It gives you a chance to finish high in the conference,” Schlander added. “Our goal is to win every Pac-10 series. If we do that we will be where we want to be when the postseason begins.”
Stanford’s next game is tonight at Sunken Diamond. The Card will take on San Francisco at 5:30 p.m., before continuing Pac-10 play at UCLA next weekend. Stanford will look to build on its recent pitching performances, and continue to deploy a high-powered offense. The Dons (12-13) are coming off a 2-1 series loss to UC-Santa Barbara and will look to senior shortstop Derek Poppert to power their offense.
Daniel Bohm contributed to this report.