Over his previous 10 games, Stanford baseball sophomore Zach Hoffpauir recorded games with zero hits, two hits and three hits, but never a game with just a single hit. On Tuesday night, Hoffpauir finally only picked up one hit — but it was quite a big one.
Trailing 6-5 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, despite having gone 0-for-4 up to that point in the game, Hoffpauir lined a triple into the right-center field gap, scoring junior Alex Blandino to tie the game at 6-6. Two pitches later, senior first baseman Danny Diekroeger followed suit with a walk-off single into right-center field, scoring Hoffpauir and delivering a 7-6 victory for Stanford (13-16, 4-8 Pac-12) over non-conference opponent Saint Mary’s (13-22, 1-5 WCC).
“[I wanted to] try to hit it to right-center,” said Hoffpauir about his game-tying at-bat. “I had popped a couple balls up, out in front a little bit, so I just told myself to slow down and try to hit it the other way and it just worked out.”
Hoffpauir’s timely hit came in the midst of some of the best hitting of his career. Since March 1st, Hoffpauir has raised his batting average from .172 to .292, and before Tuesday’s contest, he had finished five of his last six games with multiple hits. He’s no stranger to clutch hitting either, with eight of his 14 RBIs coming with two outs in innings.
“I think it started during spring break,” said Hoffpauir of his recent success. “Because of the football aspect, I don’t get as much time to work on some things and I was able to work with the coaches and get some things figured out. Ever since then, I relaxed and started to pick it up a little bit. The hard work is paying off.”
Despite needing the late heroics to secure the victory, Stanford actually outhit Saint Mary’s 12 to 4 on Tuesday. The offense continued to pick up the pace from its midseason dry spell, scoring seven runs on Tuesday after posting six runs against Washington on Sunday.
Junior Austin Slater put the Card in the lead 1-0 early after an RBI single scored Blandino in the first inning. However, just an inning later, the first hit of the game for St. Mary’s would come on a three-run home run by freshman catcher Nate Nolan to give the Gaels a 3-1 lead.
In the bottom of the third inning, a controversial interference call at first base with no outs resulted in sophomore Drew Jackson being called out at first, instigating a heated argument with the umpires from head coach Mark Marquess. Saint Mary’s starting pitcher Brad Nease fielded Jackson’s bunt and threw it down the first base line, where the first baseman couldn’t handle it, causing the ball to sail into the outfield. Sophomore Brant Whiting appeared to score all the way from first base and Jackson would have advanced to third base, but the umpire ruled that Jackson interfered with the catch at first base and he was called out, bringing Whiting back to first.
Moments later, Saint Mary’s increased its lead after junior Darian Ramage singled home a run. Ramage then attempted to take second base, prompting Diekroeger to throw the ball down to second base. The ball caromed into the outfield, allowing Ramage to continue around the bases and score on the error, giving Saint Mary’s a 5-1 advantage.
“You just have to try and stay positive,” Diekroeger said. “We made some mistakes too. I made a big error that almost cost us the game. You just have to stay positive with that and trust that with our approach if we put together good at-bats, we will get a couple runs.”
Stanford immediately responded with an outburst of its own, scoring three runs in the bottom of the fourth inning on freshman Alex Dunlap’s RBI single and sophomore Austin Barr’s two-run home run. Barr’s home run was his first of the season and his second as a Cardinal.
From there, both teams’ pitching staffs kept the offenses relatively quiet. For the Cardinal, freshman pitcher Chris Viall, making his first appearance as a reliever after starting seven games, retired all six batters he faced. Junior Sam Lindquist dominated in his two scoreless innings of work as well, striking out two batters and not surrendering a hit. The bullpen’s performance came in relief of freshman Tyler Thorne, who allowed three earned runs in two innings pitched.
After each side scored a run in the seventh inning, the Cardinal entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 6-5. Blandino led the inning off with a walk before senior Brett Michael Doran advanced him to second base with a sacrifice bunt. Blandino then moved to third when Austin Slater struck out but the ball landed in the dirt, requiring a throw down to first. The stage was set for Hoffpauir and Diekroeger, who both delivered in style.
“I was preparing for it even the inning before,” Diekroeger said. “When I’m fifth up in the inning, you know that if you’re up it’s going to be for a chance to win the game. I was taking my deep breaths from the start of the inning right up to the at-bat and Zach did great getting on third so when I was up there, I was just trying to wait for something up in the zone I could slap through and just get a single.”
“We’ve had a lot of close games, a lot of games we could have won that we didn’t pull out,” Hoffpauir added. “If we keep winning games like this and staying in games, I think we will be all right. Hopefully we can win a few more and maybe put some runs on some people so we don’t have these close games, but we’ve got to keep scheming wins like this.”
Stanford returns to play this Thursday as it begins a three-game series against conference rival Arizona State. First pitch on Thursday is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Sunken Diamond.
Contact Michael Peterson at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.