Playing in its final home game of the 2011 season, the Stanford baseball team took on the giant-slaying Cal Poly Mustangs, owners of a 6-4 record against top-25 competition this season. That record now stands at 7-4.
The Cardinal (30-20, 12-12 Pac-10), ranked No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches’ poll, had won nine of its past 12 contests and 46 of 51 all-time games against the Mustangs (27-23, 15-9 Big West) before Tuesday. But Stanford’s offense was not able to figure out Cal Poly’s pitchers last night, falling 3-1.
Sophomore third baseman Stephen Piscotty was one of just a handful of highlights for Stanford, going 3-for-3 to improve his Stanford-best batting average to .364. Sophomore outfielder Tyler Gaffney’s single in the sixth extended his hit streak to 15 games, the second-longest streak by a Cardinal hitter this season. Sophomore shortstop Kenny Diekroeger ended an 0-for-11 slump when he led off the second with an infield single, inching his average to .299 after playing most of the season close to .400. Things didn’t go as well on the mound, at least in the early innings. Sophomore starter Dean McArdle went just four innings for Stanford, giving up four hits and all three runs while striking out three. Junior Brian Busick pitched three outstanding innings in relief for the Cardinal, striking out three while giving up only two hits.
The Stanford offense couldn’t capitalize on Busick’s strong effort, as Cal Poly first baseman Matt Jensen went 3-for-4 with a home run and two RBI—enough for the win, as the Cardinal mustered just one run.
The Cardinal started the game promisingly enough, with McArdle retiring the side in order in the top of the first. Senior catcher Zach Jones then led off the bottom half of the inning with his team-leading 15th double of the season, eventually scoring on Gaffney’s RBI groundout. That double by Jones was Stanford’s only extra-base hit of the game.
McArdle struggled a little bit in the second, as Jensen drove home D.J. Gentile to plate Cal Poly’s first run. On offense, the Cardinal was not able to capitalize on its opportunities, stranding two runners in scoring position. That would be a continued theme throughout the game for the offense.
Both pitchers, McArdle and Cal Poly’s Kyle Anderson, cruised through the third and fourth innings before McArdle ran into all kinds of problems in the fifth. Jensen continued his strong performance with a leadoff homer, his first home run of the season. He then surrendered an infield hit to Chris Hoo after falling behind 3-0, and again found himself behind 3-0 to Jimmy Allen and was pulled in favor of Busick, who walked Allen on the next pitch. After a well-executed sac bunt by Bobby Crocker, Evan Busby laid down the squeeze, scoring Hoo. Busick struck out Mike Miller to retire the side, ending the threat for the Mustangs.
In the top of the sixth, Stanford caught a break from the baseball rulebook. With two outs and a runner on first, Matt Jensen’s great day continued as he laced a ball to deep right-center. Luckily for the Cardinal, the ball bounced over the fence, forcing the runner to halt at third. Busick was able to retire Hoo to end the inning.
Unfortunately, the Cardinal’s lucky break wouldn’t matter. Stanford again threatened in the bottom of the inning, as Gaffney led off with a single to keep his streak alive. After Piscotty was hit by a pitch, the Cardinal’s rally was stymied, as freshman first baseman Brian Ragira grounded into a double play and Diekroeger struck out looking with Gaffney standing on third.
The double play continued to plague the Cardinal in the seventh. Lonnie Kauppila was the culprit this time, after fellow freshman Austin Wilson led off with a single. It was the third time Stanford had grounded into a double play in the game.
The Cardinal continued to strand runners in the bottom of the eighth, as Stanford could not convert on a pair of singles by Ben Clowe and Piscotty. In the ninth, Stanford’s rally was again snuffed out by the double-play ball. After Diekoroeger led off the ninth with a walk, Wilson joined the double-play brigade, the fourth and final double play hit into by Stanford. Lonnie Kappuila flew out to end it.
The Cardinal is back in action this weekend for its final regular-season series at Cal. First pitch on Friday is at 2:30 p.m.