By Jacob Neidig
Ninth-seeded Stanford (38-16, 17-10 Pac-12) lost to North Carolina State (36-18, 19-14 ACC) in the opening game of the double-elimination 2021 College World Series on Saturday. Despite senior RHP Brendan Beck’s sixth 10+ strikeout game of the season, he and the Cardinal were unable to climb out of an early 6-0 deficit, falling 10-4 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.
After two commanding wins at the Lubbock Super Regional where Stanford baseball relied on great starting pitching, stout defense and timely hits, the Cardinal struggled to utilize those strengths in their opening game of the 2021 College World Series against NC State. Stanford, in its 17th CWS appearance, failed to piece together quality innings, and a steady stream of Wolfpack hits combined with wild pitches, walks and errors was simply too much for the offense to overcome.
There is no doubt a lot to be positive about heading into Game 2; however, the Cardinal cannot expect to give a similar performance against Pac-12 rival Arizona on Monday to return a different outcome.
In this game, the Wolfpack jumped on Beck — the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year — early and often. In the first inning, a leadoff single from first baseman Austin Murr was followed by a Tyler McDonough home run before Beck could retire the side. The Wolfpack tacked on another run in the second inning after leadoff batter Vojtech Mensik reached on an error. Following a scoreless third inning, the fourth proved to be fruitful for both teams. A solo home run and a timely hit pushed across three runs for NC State to extend the lead to six, although Beck continued to rack up a number of strikeouts.
In the bottom half of the inning, Cardinal senior second baseman Tim Tawa blasted a two strike inside fastball over the left field wall to get the Cardinal on the board and cut the deficit to 6-1.
With a runner on first and the top of the order for the Wolfpack at the plate in the top of the sixth, the Cardinal made the call to the bullpen and brought on sophomore left hander Quinn Mathews. After walking the first batter he faced, Matthews was able to end the inning without any changes to the score.
In 5 ⅔ innings of work, Beck gave up seven hits, six runs (three of which were earned) and struck out 10. While he pitched less than six complete innings, Beck threw 109 total pitches, which may limit his ability to return to the mound quickly later on in the College World Series.
Both pitching staffs retired the opposing side free of hassle until the bottom of the seventh inning, when Stanford sophomore catcher Kody Huff led off the inning with a single to the left side. On the first pitch of his at-bat later in the frame, senior right fielder Christian Robinson belted a two RBI home run to right field to make it a 6-3 game.
The Cardinal didn’t stop there, as both senior first baseman Nick Brueser and freshman third baseman Drew Bowser reached on singles, still with no outs. NC State then turned to junior Evan Justice out of the pen, who induced a strikeout from freshman DH Tommy Troy, before sophomore shortstop Adam Crampton loaded the bases with a laser line drive into left field. With one out, head coach David Esquer ’87 opted to pinch hit for freshman left fielder Eddie Park with sophomore Brett Barrera, a move that proved to be unsuccessful as Barrera struck out looking. Stanford managed to push across one more run in the inning as Tawa reached on an error by NC State third baseman Vojtech Mensik. The Cardinal rally ended with the next batter as sophomore center fielder Brock Jones popped up, but by then Stanford had cut the lead to two.
With the momentum on their side, the Cardinal turned to fifth year closer Zach Grech for the 8th inning and he was able to keep the deficit at 6-4. The team then couldn’t muster anything in the bottom half of the eighth and headed back onto defense in the top of the ninth hoping to keep the deficit at two.
The Wolfpack had a different idea in mind, scoring four runs to make the score 10-4 before the Cardinal could head back to the dugout. The half of the inning required three different Cardinal relief pitchers — Grech, freshman Joey Dixon and senior Austin Weiermiller — and the runs scored on a combination of 4 hits, 2 walks and 1 error.
Down six runs with three outs to go, the Cardinal were unable to mount a rally and finalized the score at 10-4. The loss gave Beck a 9-2 record on the year.
Next up the Cardinal will face Arizona, who lost to Vanderbilt 7-6 in extra innings on Saturday evening. The presumed starter for Stanford will be junior right hander Alex Williams, who threw a complete game shutout last week against Texas Tech.
The elimination game will take place on Monday at 11 a.m. PT at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.