Ask the Pac-12 coaches in early February, and Stanford had the best baseball team in the conference. Utah had the worst.
Ask the Utes this weekend at Sunken Diamond, and the roles were reversed.
After a close win on Friday night, the No. 19 Cardinal dropped the final two games of its home series against the Utes, a team that went just 6-23 in conference play last season and was picked to finish last in the conference in 2013. Instead, Stanford (11-7, 1-2 Pac-12) stumbled into spring quarter for the second consecutive season, bringing back nightmarish memories of a slump last March and April that crushed the team’s hopes of hosting a Super Regional.
Stanford’s 3-2 loss on Saturday underscored the offensive struggles of a team that has been without its best hitter, junior Austin Wilson, since the second game of the season. In Wilson’s absence, the Cardinal has averaged just 3.8 runs per game, down from 6.7 last season.
While Stanford freshman Bobby Zarubin got the first Saturday start of his career, Utah (11-10, 2-4) benefited from 6.1 quality innings by senior Joe Pond, who struck out eight and took a shutout into the seventh inning. Clutch hitting by junior Danny Diekroeger and heads-up baserunning by sophomore Austin Slater helped Stanford knot the game up at two apiece and chase Pond from the game.
A timely double by junior Trey Nielsen, his first hit of the afternoon, won the game in the 10th for the Utes.
Cardinal senior Dean McArdle struggled out of the gates in Stanford’s 7-5 Sunday loss, allowing three hits on his first five pitches and surrendering five runs (three earned) in his 2.2 innings of work.
Junior shortstop Lonnie Kauppila cut into a 6-0 Utah lead with more heads-up baserunning in the fifth, and Stanford added four runs in the bottom of the eighth. But it wasn’t enough to catch the Utes, whose Braden Anderson and Kody Davis each had four hits.