“Last night [pitch coach Thomas] Eager came up to me and told me the goal isn’t to go as long as you can, it’s just to get the first out, and then the next out and the next out,” freshman RHP Alex Williams said.
The indefatigable arm of Williams got all 27 outs to help No. 1 Stanford (43-12, 22-7 Pac-12) stave off elimination with its second win in three days over No. 4 seed Sacramento State (40-25, 18-9 WAC). The 12-3 victory advanced the Cardinal to the nightcap, a must-win contest against No. 3 seed Fresno State (40-14-1, 20-8-1 Mountain West).
“The name of the game today was Alex Williams, he gave us a great effort when we needed it the most,” said Stanford head coach David Esquer. “The biggest performance at the biggest time.”
In the first complete game of the Esquer era, Williams (8-1, 2.56 ERA) struck out eight, walked two and allowed just the three runs on six hits. The 109 pitch start was the longest of his career, the eight strikeouts a career high, and Stanford preserved its bullpen along the way.
“Didn’t think I’d go all nine, but definitely happy with my performance,” Williams said.
Junior LHP Erik Miller (7-2, 2.91 ERA) will start Sunday’s night game, and the well-rested arm of junior RHP Jack Little (3-2, 3.71 ERA) will be available out of the bullpen.
“Trying to get to the game tonight and hold a couple bullets back,” Esquer said.
As the away side, Stanford exploited the opportunity to strike first for the second consecutive game, and once again it was the long ball from senior right fielder Brandon Wulff (.269/.387/.601). This time, junior catcher Maverick Handley (.291/.399/.427) earned a one-out walk ahead of him to give the Cardinal an early two-run lead off of Evan Gibbons (1-3, 8.64 ERA).
“Getting out in front was big to get our feet on the ground and take a breath there,” Esquer said. “Then we tacked on three consecutive innings.”
In the first weekend start of his career, Williams went to work, and scattered baserunners in each of the first three innings until the Hornets strung together a few hits to break through in the fourth.
“Alex did a great job of minimizing it, keeping it to one, and allowing us to get back in the dugout and score some runs,” Esquer said.
By that time, the Cardinal had put five runs on the board with a run in each of the second, third and fourth innings. Two walks sent the Hornets to the bullpen in the second with Brady Rodriguez, and sophomore left fielder Kyle Stowers (.308/.374/.527) greeted him with an RBI single.
In the third inning, junior DH Will Matthiessen (.320/.395/.555) sent one down the left field line for the second Stanford home run. An inning later, after reaching on an error by his counterpart, sophomore shortstop Tim Tawa (.241/.273/.404) worked his way around the bases and scored on a passed ball.
“We’re a team that hits home runs and we were able to get a couple up and out of the park,” Esquer said.
Williams retired the side in order for the first time in the fifth inning, then scattered a walk and a hit in the sixth with the help of a double play. Travis Martizia (4-1, 3.49 ERA) came in for relief, shutting the Cardinal down for two innings, but then tired by his third frame, and Stanford took the opportunity to break the game open.
“We needed to add on,” Esquer said. “We didn’t want to have to go to the bullpen.”
Stowers hit a solo home run in the top of the seventh inning, and Wulff was brought around by a Matthiessen single. Martizia was replaced by Stone Churby (2-1, 4.11 ERA), who walked the first batter he faced, junior first baseman Andrew Daschbach (.301/.391/.633).
It did not improve from there, as a double from redshirt junior second baseman Duke Kinamon (.314/.355/.491) and an infield single to Tawa, set up a three-run moonshot to straightaway center from redshirt junior third baseman Nick Bellafronto (.275/.395/.533). Stanford’s seven-run seventh inning proved to be the conclusion of an otherwise competitive game.
The Hornets got to Williams in the bottom half, but not enough to take the sting out of the top of the frame. Matt Smith brought home Bronson Grubbs with a two-run home run.
In the eighth, both sides went down in order, and by this time only three starters remained in the Stanford lineup. A single from freshman second baseman Austin Kretschmar was all the offense of the top of the ninth inning, and Williams came out to finish the complete game in the bottom half. A pop out, ground out, and foul out did the job.
“He was in control the whole time,” Esquer said. “His ability to make pitches in any count at any time and keep hitters off balance and throw strike after strike after strike.”
Miller and the Cardinal will take on Fresno State Sunday at 6 p.m. PT from Sunken Diamond.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.