What a difference a year makes.
Fifty-one weeks ago, Santa Clara came into Sunken Diamond with a 0-21 record in its West Coast Conference play, yet still emerged with a shutout victory over a listless Stanford baseball team. The 3-0 Broncos win was essentially the final nail in the coffin of the Cardinal’s postseason hopes.
Tuesday night was a bit of a different story, as Stanford (22-20, 9-12 Pac-12) blew out Santa Clara (22-26, 12-9 WCC) by an 8-2 score, spurred by a five-run fourth inning that put the game away early. The Cardinal have now won 11 of their last 15 games in their push for the playoffs.
“It was good to keep up the momentum that we had after [the series win over UCLA],” said junior Austin Slater. “Obviously, we haven’t forgotten what happened last year. And we know that if we were to lose another mid-week game, that would be it for us. We’re fighting for our lives right now, and it’s been fun ⎯ there’s been a lot of energy from the guys and we’re just competing out there.”
On Sunday, freshman Brett Hanewich was pushed back in the rotation in favor of sophomore Logan James, but Tuesday he got the start for the Cardinal, his first since last Monday against Cal. Over four innings ⎯ his longest outing since April 11 despite being limited by the coaching staff ⎯ Hanewich allowed just one run on four hits and struck out six. The Cardinal offense gave him some support early on, as the team jumped out to a 3-0 lead after two innings.
After getting on via a leadoff walk, freshman Tommy Edman came across the plate in the first on an error by the Santa Clara shortstop on a ball hit by senior Alex Blandino. And in the second, junior Dominic Jose had an RBI single to knock in senior Brant Whiting, which was later followed by another RBI single by Edman.
In the fourth, Stanford broke the game open. Jose walked to lead off the inning, then junior Wayne Taylor launched a two-run opposite-field homer over the left-center field fence (perhaps with a bit of assistance from the wind). Later in the inning, Slater slapped a two-run single through the left side and sophomore Zach Hoffpauir, who went 2-for-3 in the game, had a RBI single of his own. Overall, the Cardinal scored five runs on four hits, two walks and a hit by pitch in the fourth inning.
When Hanewich was removed from the game, the Stanford bullpen closed the game out, combining for five innings of one-run ball with contributions from sophomore Marcus Brakeman, freshman Chris Viall and junior Sam Lindquist.
Over its last three games, the Cardinal offense has exploded: in addition to 31 total hits, it has hit 10-for-25 (.400) with runners in scoring position.
“In seeing some of the games we’ve lost, we’ve had a lot of hits, but we haven’t gotten the hits at the right time,” said head coach Mark Marquess. “More importantly, a lot of the games we lost, it was because we left so many guys on base. That’s the biggest difference.”
“Sometimes hitting is just contagious,” Slater added. “When things are going good, everyone is clicking on all cylinders and that’s what it’s been the last couple of games.”
Slater in particular has been hot of late. Over a six-game hitting streak, he’s hitting .545 (12-for-22) with four extra-base hits and seven RBIs. He has improved his average to a team-leading .333 ⎯ 37 points higher than the second-highest mark ⎯ and he’s now leading the team with 28 RBIs this season.
“I’ve just been more patient up there, more selective early in the count. Obviously, confidence has a great deal to do with it,” he said. “I’m just seeing the ball really well right now and hopefully I can keep it up for the next three weeks.”
The Cardinal are now an undefeated 13-0 when scoring more than five runs and will look to continue their offensive firepower down the stretch with 11 games remaining. Up next for Stanford is a weekend road trip to the desert to take on an Arizona team that has lost eight of its last nine games. The three-game series starts Friday night at 7 p.m.
Contact Jordan Wallach at jwallach ‘at’ stanford.edu.