The Stanford baseball team continued its sluggish start to the season despite dominant performances from its starting pitchers, dropping two of three at home to USC in its first conference games of the season. The Cardinal (8-10, 1-2 Pac-12) suffered two tough defeats as late leads slipped through their grasp, losing 4-3 on Friday and 6-3 on Sunday to the Trojans (12-10, 3-3 Pac-12) with a 6-2 win sandwiched in between on Saturday.
The Cardinal led in all three games largely because of freshmen Brett Hanewich, Cal Quantrill and Chris Viall, who started on the mound on Friday, Saturday and Sunday respectively and allowed only two earned runs on 10 hits over 18.1 combined innings pitched. The three pitchers have started every weekend game so far this season and now boast a combined ERA of 2.75.
In contrast to the starters, however, Stanford’s bullpen surrendered eight earned runs in 9.2 innings pitched over the course of the three games. The bullpen failed to maintain leads on Friday and Sunday as the Card lost two heartbreakers in games that it led for most of the way.
Stanford’s offense posted 25 hits on the weekend, outhitting USC in every game, but only six of those hits went for extra bases. The Cardinal have not hit a home run since Feb. 23, when Alex Blandino homered in an 11-5 win over Texas.
In Friday’s contest, Hanewich shined while scattering three hits over six strong innings with an unearned run in the first inning as his only minor blemish. He has not allowed an earned run in his past two starts, a stretch that spans 11.1 total innings pitched.
Stanford established an early 3-1 lead thanks to RBIs from junior Austin Slater, senior Danny Diekroeger and freshman Alex Dunlap, who had one apiece in the first three innings. However, the Cardinal’s bats cooled off after the early burst and only managed three more hits over the last six innings.
After remaining quiet for much of the game, USC capitalized on the bullpen’s struggles with three runs on four singles in the eighth inning. The Trojans narrowly held on in the ninth inning to clinch the victory, stranding Cardinal runners on first and second.
On Saturday, Quantrill furthered the recent successful showings from the starting pitchers by giving up just one earned run over 6.1 innings pitched. For Quantrill, the run marked the end of 17.1 innings without allowing an earned run and for the Cardinal’s starting pitchers, it ended an impressive streak of 36.1 innings without allowing an earned run.
The Cardinal jumped ahead 2-0 in the second inning after senior Brett Michael Doran singled home two runs. A sacrifice fly and an error pushed across another pair in the third and fourth innings to stretch the Cardinal’s lead to 4-0.
USC mounted a comeback with an RBI single from sophomore Blake Lacey in the seventh inning and an unearned run in the eighth inning when senior Omar Cotto doubled and scored on an error on the next play. However, the Cardinal answered in the bottom of the eighth with two runs on RBI hits by Diekroeger and junior Wayne Taylor to again take a four-run lead that they would take to the finish.
Senior A.J. Vanegas pitched 2.2 innings in relief of Quantrill and allowed only an unearned run in sealing Stanford’s victory. Sophomore Drew Jackson also had one of his best games of the season, finishing with two hits and three runs.
Viall took the mound on Sunday for the Card and pitched undoubtedly his best outing of the year and arguably the best outing from any starting pitcher other than Quantrill’s complete-game shutout against Kansas. The 6-foot-9 freshman overpowered USC’s hitters with five strikeouts over six innings and carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning. The Trojans’ only hit — and only run — off Viall came on sophomore Vahn Bozoian’s solo home run in the sixth inning.
“[Viall] pitched great, normally that’s good enough for us to win,” head coach Mark Marquess told GoStanford.com. “It was his best outing.”
Again, Stanford built an early lead, this time on a two-run double off the bat of Dunlap in the first inning. Diekroeger’s sacrifice fly in the second inning put the Cardinal ahead 3-0. However, the offense would halt there for the Cardinal — Stanford put zeroes on the board from the third inning onwards.
Friday’s bullpen lapses reappeared on Sunday for the Cardinal as USC scored two runs in the eighth inning to spoil a 3-1 lead and a spectacular outing from Viall. Two sacrifice flies from freshman Jeremy Martinez and sophomore Timmy Robinson tied the game at 3-3 and forced extra innings.
In the tenth inning, USC exploded for three runs on three hits, including two doubles, to take its first lead of the day at 6-3. Stanford’s attempted rally in the bottom of the inning quickly evaporated with a game-ending double play.
The Cardinal’s disappointing start to the season took a turn for the worse with two devastating losses in winnable games to USC. After facing arguably the nation’s most difficult schedule with series against top-25 foes Rice, Texas and Vanderbilt and upstart Kansas, Stanford could not take advantage of a series against weaker opposition — USC has not had a winning season since 2009 — before it again faces two series against ranked opponents in Oregon and Oregon State. With the two victories, USC won its first series against the Cardinal at Sunken Diamond since 2007.
In spite of the weekend’s result, the team should be pleased with the continued dominance of its starting pitching. The three freshmen, Hanewich, Quantrill and Viall, handed the Cardinal a late lead in every game over the weekend and only seem to be improving as the season progresses.
Stanford will look to rebound when it travels to face Saint Mary’s this Tuesday at 3 p.m. in Moraga, Calif.
Contact Michael Peterson at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.