Stanford baseball may have come away with it first series sweep of the season over the visiting Washington Huskies this weekend, but the final result didn’t preclude some late-inning drama. After riding eight solid innings from sophomore righty Mark Appel to a 6-2 win on Friday, Stanford made things interesting by surrendering a four-run lead before eking out an 8-7 victory on Saturday and coming from behind with a six-run eighth to win 7-2 on Sunday. The No. 28 Cardinal (25-16, 9-9 Pac-10) evened its conference record with the sweep and is back on track after winning just one weekend series in the past month.
After dropping out of the top 25 last week, the sweep couldn’t come at a better time.
“It was tough losing last week to Arizona. We thought we were really close to winning that series,” said senior righthander Danny Sandbrink, who started Saturday’s game. “And the sweep this weekend was huge for us, absolutely, as far as thinking about postseason and kind of getting back on track.”
Friday’s season-high crowd of 3,202 may have come for Fireworks Night, but Appel (4-5) put on a show of his own in the opener with a career-best nine strikeouts across eight innings, giving up two runs (one earned) and getting the win. Stanford never trailed, as it got on the board early with a fielder’s choice and a sacrifice fly from freshman first baseman Brian Ragira. Appel gave up a couple hits in the second as Washington (13-30, 4-14) crawled to within 2-1 but struck out the side in the third and continued to cruise as Stanford built up a four-run lead through just four innings against Husky starter Geoff Brown, who was chased after three-plus innings. Sophomore center fielder Tyler Gaffney knocked in senior catcher Zach Jones with his conference-leading fifth triple in the fourth, which stretched the lead to 5-1.
Zach Wright replaced Brown in the fourth and matched Appel inning-for-inning, shutting down Stanford until freshman right fielder Austin Wilson got an eighth-inning sacrifice fly for the Cardinal’s sixth run. Junior lefty Chris Reed came in to get the save, allowing the first two runners he faced to reach base but coaxing a double play and a groundout to ice the game at 6-2.
Before a dramatic ninth-inning finish, Saturday’s game looked to be more of the same — Sandbrink cruised through seven innings, leaving with a 7-3 lead after striking out six and walking two. But things got shaky as soon as Reed took the mound in the eighth, when the Husky offense has its biggest inning of the weekend. Second baseman Jacob Lamb singled and first baseman Troy Scott doubled to open the inning, then catcher B.K. Santy looped one to the outfield to drive in Lamb. Right fielder Chase Anselment loaded the bases with another single and Ryan Wiggins drove in a pair before the Huskies tied the game with a sacrifice bunt and an RBI groundout.
“The comeback in the ninth is really all I care about, but it was tough for Reed for sure,” Sandbrink said. “I thought he had good stuff, and those balls just found some holes. I thought he pitched well and kind of gave up some well-placed hits.”
Jones, whom head coach Mark Marquess penciled in for his 2011 debut in the leadoff spot this weekend, helped Stanford bounce back in the ninth with a double off Adam Cimber to open the frame. That proved to be the only hit of the inning, as Gaffney sent him to third with a fly out before a pair of intentional walks loaded the bases.
Cimber and the Huskies looked poised to send it to extras in the next at-bat, as the Washington closer had senior Dave Giuliani down 0-2. But the Cardinal left fielder knocked a screamer to second baseman Willy Reel, who fumbled the ball and let Jones score the winning run on an error.
The late-inning heroics continued on Sunday, as Stanford found itself down 2-1 against freshman righty Austin Voth through seven innings. Cimber replaced the Washington starter in the seventh and had one solid inning, but despite a 10-1 record when leading after seven, Cimber and the Huskies fell apart in the next inning as Stanford rallied for six runs.
Jones led off the rally once again with an infield single, and sophomore third baseman Stephen Piscotty got on with a single after Gaffney flied out. That moved Stanford ahead in the hits column — seven to eight — and gave Ragira a big opportunity with one out and two men on.
The freshman came through, nailing a two-run triple off the wall in center to put Stanford up 3-2.
Kenny Diekroeger immediately followed that with a double — his second of the game — to Anselment in right field, scoring Diekroeger for an insurance run. That marked Cimber’s last pitch, as the usually effective reliever stepped out for senior righthander Jacob Clem.
Kenny’s younger brother, designated hitter Danny Diekroeger, kept the run parade going, sneaking a comebacker past Clem and into center field. By then, the wheels had clearly begun to come off for Washington, as freshman second baseman Lonnie Kauppila followed Diekroeger by reaching on a fielding error by third baseman Troy Scott.
The bleeding wouldn’t stop there, however, as Giuliani knocked in an RBI double. Still with just one out, the Huskies intentionally walked Wilson to load the bases for the man who started the inning, Jones. The Cardinal catcher knocked a sac fly to right field before Clem finally got out of the inning by coaxing a grounder from Gaffney.
Busick got into a bit of trouble after a walk and a hit-by-pitch to start the top of the ninth but coaxed a double play out of Eric Peterson and struck out Ty Afenir to end the game at 7-2.
Stanford has plenty to feel good about after the sweep, but one of those positives is certainly Jones. The veteran catcher is pushing his average close to .250 after an abysmal start to the season and had four hits — including two that started crucial late-inning rallies — to go with four runs and a pair of RBI out of the leadoff spot.
“I think it says a lot about his work ethic, since he started the year so poorly,” Sandbrink said. “He’s spent a lot of extra time in practice and in the cage, just to improve his output, and it’s really shown. He’s hitting a lot better, and he’s given the coaches confidence to put him there. It’s huge for us, because Zach runs so well, and him being on base in the top of the lineup is definitely a sparkplug for us.”
Stanford has a busy week ahead, taking on Pacific in Stockton tomorrow at 6 p.m. before returning home to play UC-Davis at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday.