M. Baseball: Stanford gears up for top-10 showdown against Vanderbilt

By and
Feb. 25, 2011, 1:46 a.m.

Continuing what might be the most grueling non-conference schedule of any team in the country, the Stanford baseball team heads back out on the road to battle No. 3 Vanderbilt in a three-game series that begins today in Nashville.

It’s the No. 8 Cardinal’s second trip to the central time zone in a week, after it opened the season with a 2-1 series victory over No. 17 Rice, and marks another tough test on the national stage.

M. Baseball: Stanford gears up for top-10 showdown against Vanderbilt
The Stanford baseball team practises at Klein Fieldin preparation for the upcoming season. The Cardinal hits the road this week for a top-10 showdown with No. 3 Vanderbilt in Nashville. (Simon Warby/The Stanford Daily)

Vanderbilt (5-0) swept through the San Diego schools in its opening weekend, taking a three-game set from the University of San Diego while knocking off San Diego State in a one-game affair. The Commodores beat Belmont in a midweek game on Wednesday, 6-2, but have set their vaunted rotation to face off against the Cardinal this weekend.

Junior right-handed ace Sonny Gray will likely start the Friday game for Vanderbilt, while the Cardinal (3-1) will trot out sophomore righty Mark Appel, who pitched four strong innings in the season opener against Rice. Gray had a rough first inning, allowing three runs, but the preseason All-American settled down and didn’t allow a hit the rest of the way as he earned the win against San Diego in a rain-shortened game.

Saturday’s pitching matchup should feature either senior Taylor Hill or junior Grayson Garvin for the Commodores, facing off against junior Chris Reed. The Stanford lefthander was roughed up in his first start against Rice but had a very impressive summer in the Atlantic Collegiate Summer League with a miniscule 1.09 ERA through 33 innings—he was rated as the top prospect in the league.

It will be a tough task against either Hill or Garvin, however, as both pitched brilliantly in their openers at San Diego. Garvin, a tall lefthander from Suwanee, Ga., took a perfect game into the seventh inning and struck out 10 in 8.1 innings of work. Hill, a righty from Old Hickory, Tenn., looked equally impressive after throwing 7.1 innings of five-hit ball with eight strikeouts and just one run–neither pitcher issued a free pass in 15.2 combined innings of work.

The Commodores are a constant presence in the NCAA Tournament, making it to the past five NCAA Regionals under manager Tim Corbin. Besides their top-notch pitching, they also return seven everyday starters from a team that won 46 games last year. That includes top hitters Aaron Westlake, Jason Esposito and Anthony Gomez.

Juniors Esposito and Westlake hit 12 and 14 home runs apiece last year while both batting above .300, and the sophomore Gomez hit a team-high .379 en route to being named a Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American.

Stanford and head coach Mark Marquess counter with their own quartet of young guns, led by two preseason All-Americans, sophomore shortstop Kenny Diekroeger and freshman outfielder Austin Wilson, along with sophomore third baseman Stephen Piscotty and sophomore outfielder Jake Stewart.

Diekroeger hit a team-high .356 and had 41 RBIs while being named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year; he is off to a good start this year with seven hits in 16 at-bats. His first home run of the year put Stanford on top against Cal, and he added an RBI single later in the game.

The play of Wilson has also met the lofty standards that accompanied the highly touted outfielder from Los Angeles to the Farm. Wilson is currently tied for second on the team in batting with Piscotty, sporting a .429 batting average to go with a home run and four RBIs, all in games against top-25 opponents.

The weekend series is just the second between the two teams, and Stanford holds a 3-1 all-time edge thanks to a 2-1 series win in 2009. With both teams now sporting top-10 rankings, the rivalry is likely to only grow more intense this weekend as conference bragging rights are also on the line.

If the games are close, the Cardinal should get a boost from its bullpen, which has allowed only three runs in 16 innings so far.

First pitch on Friday will take place at 2 p.m. PST, with Saturday’s game scheduled for a noon start and Sunday’s slated to begin at 11 a.m.

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