Over the weekend, No. 2 Stanford baseball (47-16, 21-9 Pac-12) defeated UConn (50-15, 16-5 Big East) in a best-of-three series to advance to the College World Series. The Cardinal dropped the first contest of the series in thrilling fashion before coming back to win the final two games to punch their ticket to Omaha, Neb. This marks Stanford’s 18th appearance in the College World Series, which ties Arizona for fifth all-time.
Before the series began, Stanford head coach David Esquer knew that beating the unranked Huskies squad would be a difficult task. “With sixteen teams remaining, there are no soft weekends,” he said. “All sixteen teams are capable.”
In the first game of the series, Esquer started senior Alex Williams on the mound. In the top of the first inning, Williams struck out the lead-off hitter and made the two-hole hitter fly out to center field to give the Cardinal two quick outs. But after Williams forced three-hole hitter Casey Dana to fly the ball to left field, sophomore left fielder Eddie Park dropped the ball, which allowed Dana to make it to second base. Promptly following this error, UConn Ben Huber hit a double to plate Dana and give the Huskies a 1-0 lead.
Following his defensive mishap, Park redeemed himself in the same inning by making a leaping catch to steal a home run from UConn shortstop Bryan Padilla. This catch got the Cardinal out of the inning with limited damage. But it could not slow down UConn in the long run, as the Huskies went on a hitting streak in the top of the second.
Williams gave up six base hits, including three doubles and a home run in the second inning alone. After UConn extended its lead to 6-0, junior pitcher Max Meier replaced Williams. But Meier could not limit the Huskies’ damage either, as he gave up three more runs to make the game 9-0.
But Stanford did not lay down after trailing by a seemingly insurmountable margin. Sophomore third baseman Drew Bowser hit a two-run home run in the second inning to cut the lead to 9-2. Soon after, junior right fielder Brock Jones hit a two-run shot to center field to further cut into the lead. Nonetheless, UConn gained these runs back by scoring two runs in the fourth and two more in the seventh.
In the bottom of the seventh, two solo homers off the bats of Jones and junior second baseman Brett Barrera cut the UConn lead to 13-6. But the Cardinal offense did not stop there.
In the bottom of the ninth, Jones hit a two-run shot — his third home run of the game — to put the Cardinal within five runs. Then, freshman right fielder Braden Montgomery followed with a two-run home run to make the score 13-10. Both Bowser and sophomore DH Tommy Troy hit solo big slams to make it a one-run ball game. However, after Park drew a base on balls, shortstop Adam Crampton struck out swinging, which clinched the game for UConn 13-12.
In a reversal of game one, Stanford’s bats got out to a fast start in the first two innings of game two. In the top of the first, junior catcher Kody Huff hit a single up the middle to score Barrera and Graham.
After UConn put up one run in the bottom of the first, Stanford went on a six-run rally in the second inning. First, Jones hit a sacrifice fly to center field to plate Park. Then, Graham hit a bloop single to right field, which scored Crampton. After Barrera singled, Montgomery hit a towering shot to left center to extend the lead to 7-1. To cap off the inning, Bowser hit a solo home run to make the score 8-1.
UConn scored one more run in the bottom of the second inning, which was the last run of the game, as Stanford’s bullpen did not let UConn climb back into the game. In the end, Stanford took game two 8-2 to keep its College World Series hopes alive.
In the decisive third game, UConn got off to another quick start in the first inning. After sophomore pitcher Joey Dixon loaded the bases, UConn’s Ben Huber hit a double that brought all three runners on the base paths home. After Huber’s double, sophomore pitcher Drew Dowd came in to pitch for Huber.
With Huber on second, Padilla hit a double to put runners on third and second with no outs. After Padilla’s AB, Dowd got a pop fly in the infield to get the first out of the inning, but walked the next batter to load the bases with just one out. With the count at 1-0, Dowd placed an off-speed pitch outside the plate, which the UConn batter hit directly to Adam Crampton. Crampton tossed the ball to second baseman Brett Barrera, who then immediately threw it to Carter Graham to complete the double play and limit the damage in the inning.
For Stanford offensively, Jones led off the bottom of the first with a single that turned into two bases after an error by the UConn outfielder. After flyouts to the outfield, Jones scored to make the score 3-1. After Jones scored, Montgomery drew a walk and then Huff hit a double, which plated Montgomery.
After two scoreless innings, Stanford put up a six-run rally in the fourth inning to break the game open. To get it started, Park and Troy hit singles to put runners on first and second with no outs. After a muffed pick-off attempt, Park and Troy advanced to second and third, respectively. Then, the ninth-hole hitter, Crampton, hit a single up the middle to bring home Park and Troy. Later in the inning, the Cardinal loaded the bases with Huff up to bat. After battling to make it a 2-1 count, Huff hit a shot to left field for a grand slam, making the score 8-3.
While UConn scored in both the sixth and ninth innings, the pitching combination of sophomore Ryan Bruno and junior Quinn Matthews limited the potent UConn offense to just two scores and helped Stanford clinch the win — and a trip to Omaha.
Looking forward, Stanford will face off against Arkansas first in the College World Series. The Cardinal defeated Arkansas earlier this year 5-0 in the Round Rock Classic, but the Razorbacks have been on a hot streak as of late, defeating two top-ten teams to make it to Omaha. First pitch is scheduled for 11 a.m. PT on Saturday, June 18 and will be televised on ESPN.