By Jacob Neidig
Stanford’s (39-17, 17-10 Pac 12) season came to a close on Wednesday in a heartbreaking 6-5 loss to Vanderbilt (47-16, 19-10 SEC) that came down to the final out of the ballgame.
Clinging to a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the ninth with two out and senior RHP Brendan Beck on the mound, the Cardinal allowed three straight Vanderbilt batters to reach to tie the game and put runners on second and third. Then, a 1-0 curveball from Beck sailed to the backstop, allowing the winning Vanderbilt run to score on the wild pitch and sending the Cardinal home from Omaha, Neb. in the elimination game.
With their season on the line for the second time in three days, the Cardinal turned to sophomore LHP Quinn Mathews against a balanced Vanderbilt offense. Matthews started the game beautifully, holding Vanderbilt scoreless in the first three frames to go along with three strikeouts.
On the offensive side, in the first inning both freshman left fielder Eddie Park and senior second baseman Tim Tawa reached base before sophomore center fielder Brock Jones lined out to the second baseman. In an attempt to double Park off the base, Vanderbilt sophomore second baseman Parker Noland threw the ball away, allowing Park to score the first run of the game and Tawa to advance to third.
Two innings later, Jones kept his bat hot by depositing a 3-1 pitch in the Stanford bullpen to extend the lead to 2-0.
The Cardinal offense tacked on two more in the top of the fourth while only getting one hit past the infield dirt. The combination of two walks, an error and an infield single was enough to make the lead 4-0 in favor of Stanford.
In the bottom of the fourth, Mathews allowed a leadoff walk before junior first baseman Dominic Keegan lifted a 1-1 pitch into the left field stands. With that home run, the Stanford lead was halved.
With the score still locked at 4-2, the Cardinal added an insurance run in the sixth. Sophomore shortstop Adam Crampton led off the inning for Stanford with a single to left center. After Park and Tawa were both retired, Jones once again came up clutch. After battling the entire at-bat, he belted a line drive just past the outstretched glove of the Vanderbiilt right fielder for a two out, RBI double.
In the bottom half of the inning, Vanderbilt chipped into the Stanford lead with two runs on four hits. With runners on first and third and nobody out, the Cardinal brought in senior reliever Jacob Palish, who was magnificent in the win against Arizona, to extinguish the rally. Palisch was able to limit the Commodores to two runs and preserve the Stanford lead at 5-4.
The bottom of the seventh proved to be just as intense as the previous inning. After hitting the first batter, Palisch was replaced by senior right hander Brendan Beck. Beck, who started Stanford’s first College World Series game on Saturday, proceeded to strike out the next three batters and keep the lead at 5-4.
Beck was also excellent in the bottom of the eighth as he retired the side in order with two strikeouts.
Unfortunately for the Cardinal, Beck and the defense couldn’t put the final nail in the coffin in the bottom of the ninth. After retiring the first two Vanderbilt hitters with ease, Beck allowed his first base runner in three innings by walking junior left fielder Javier Vaz on a 3-2 pitch.
With two outs and a runner on first, sophomore pinch hitter Spencer Jones hit a weak ground ball between second and third base. Crampton was able to field the ball cleanly, but hastily threw the ball away, allowing the lead runner to reach third. The next batter singled into right field bringing in Vaz, tying the game at 5-5 and again putting runners on the corners. With the count at 1-0 on the next batter, the next pitch from Beck sailed past sophomore catcher Kody Huff, allowing Jones to score from third and handing the Cardinal a season-ending loss.
In their final game of the season, the offense was led by Jones who went 3-4 with a double, homerun, and three RBIs. Senior first baseman Nick Brueser and Tawa each added two hits of their own.
The Cardinal finished their season with a record of 39-17 and earned their 17th appearance in the College World Series and first in more than a decade. The Cardinal have eight seniors on the roster, many of whom contributed tonight including Tawa, Brueser, Beck and Palisch.