There’s just no escaping Tennessee for Stanford Athletics postseason trips this year. After men’s basketball traveled to Memphis for the rounds of 64 and 32 and women’s basketball traveled to Nashville for the Final Four, Stanford baseball (34-24) journeys to Nashville to face Vanderbilt (47-18) for a three-game series in the Super Regional round of the postseason. The winner of the series will advance to play in the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
After earning the right to host a regional, Vanderbilt proceeded to sweep through the regional in dominating fashion. It started by beating Xavier 11-0 before beating Oregon twice, 7-2 and 3-2, to move onto the Super Regional. The success in the regional came after a rather disappointing end to the season, though, as the Commodores lost two-of-three in both its final regular season series and in the SEC tournament.
The Cardinal embark upon a familiar trip, having already faced Vanderbilt three times early this season in Nashville. In that series, Vanderbilt won all three contests by scores of 4-1, 5-1 and 4-2, respectively.
“We started the three freshmen, we weren’t hitting,” said head coach Mark Marquess about the team’s prior outings against Vanderbilt. “The second national championship we won [in 1988] we played Arizona State and they beat us five out of six, we just beat them at the right time. We won’t be intimidated…We’re somewhat familiar with them.”
“We are a completely different team from when we played them the first time; obviously the record shows for the last half of the year and Regionals. We are just a different team and we’re going to go in and hopefully see different results,” added freshman Cal Quantrill.
A lot certainly has changed in the three months since the series. This time around, Stanford will throw junior John Hochstatter in Friday’s game, Quantrill in Saturday’s game and likely sophomore Logan James in Sunday’s game if necessary. Only Quantrill was in the rotation for Stanford when it played Vanderbilt last as he allowed one earned run over five innings pitched in the 4-2 defeat.
“I think the turning point for us [this season] is that Hochstatter started to pitch really well,” head coach Mark Marquess said. “He pitched well out of the bullpen and then came in and pitched well in the league.”
The trip is complicated by the occurrence of final exams this weekend for the Cardinal players. Finals are scheduled to begin today and will continue through next Wednesday. Most of the players plan on taking proctored finals during the trip, including Quantrill, who will take his Physics 43 final right before his start on Saturday. Vanderbilt operates on the semester system and has already completed its school year.
“Not the best scenario, but I’ve studied quite a bit,” Quantrill said. “Just doing what we got to do, and I think most of the guys are ready.”
For Stanford, the series offers an opportunity to exact revenge on the Commodores. The team mustered only 14 hits combined across the three-game set against Vanderbilt’s stellar pitching staff in the previous series, but the offense begins the series this time on a hot streak. Stanford hit .303 during the Bloomington Regional, including .378 with runners in scoring position. The Card also crushed nine home runs and a total of 19 extra-base hits.
“This was our best weekend of the year,” said freshman Tommy Edman, who was named the Most Outstanding Player at the Bloomington Regional. “We’re in good shape and got good momentum going into the Vanderbilt series, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
A huge part of the overall offensive success has come due to the production from all parts of the lineup. Stanford’s nine home runs in the regional were from nine different players, with two of those home runs coming in pinch-hit situations. Four players are hitting over .300 for Stanford, led by junior Austin Slater, who is hitting .352 and riding a 22-game hitting streak into the series. Slater’s hitting streak now ranks sixth all-time in Stanford history after he passed several former players with his hits in the regional, including current Stanford assistant coach Ryan Garko.
As Stanford knows well, Vanderbilt boasts one of the best pitching corps in the nation, which finished the regular season ranked 16th in the nation with a 2.67 team ERA. The starter in Friday’s game will be Tyler Beede, who was taken as the 14th overall pick in yesterday’s MLB draft by the San Francisco Giants. Beede went 8-7 with a 3.20 ERA this season.
The exceptional rotation doesn’t stop there. Saturday starter Carson Fulmer throws in the upper 90s with his fastball and enters the series at 6-1 with a 1.42 ERA, having served as both the closer and a starting pitcher this season. If a game is needed on Sunday, Walker Buehler, who threw a complete game in Vanderbilt’s regional-clinching win over Oregon, will likely be the one to toe the rubber with his 11-2 record and 2.27 ERA.
“We’ve just got to keep playing our own game,” Edman said. “As long as we come out fired up and play better than Vanderbilt does, it doesn’t really matter who has the better talent. We will be able to win if we play the best that day.”
On the other side, Vanderbilt operates with a small-ball approach. Although the Commodores have only hit 21 home runs this season, they have stolen 92 bases as a team, good for 13th in the nation. Sophomore Dansby Swanson has been a key to Vanderbilt’s success on offense, hitting .335 from the leadoff position and also recording 17 stolen bases, both team-leading statistics. In addition, freshman Bryan Reynolds has powered the middle of the order with four home runs and a team-leading 49 RBI’s.
A series victory in the Super Regional would mean a trip to Omaha the following weekend for the Card, which would be their first College World Series appearance since 2008 and 15th overall under Mark Marquess.
“The team that plays the best wins, not the best team, in college baseball today. Not the best team,” Marquess said.
The first pitch between Stanford and Vanderbilt is scheduled for today at 10 a.m. Saturday’s game will begin at noon and if necessary, Sunday’s game will begin at noon. The games will be aired on ESPN2.
Contact Michael Peterson at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.