No. 2 Stanford (47-18, 21-9 Pac-12) was eliminated from the College World Series (CWS) after losing its first two games in Omaha. After being seen as one of the favorites to win heading into the tournament, the early elimination comes as a disappointment to the team and fans.
In the first game of the CWS, Stanford faced the Arkansas Razorbacks (44-19, 18-12 SEC). The Cardinal defeated Arkansas earlier in the season 5-0, but the Razorbacks were on a hot streak before entering the CWS, defeating two top-ten teams to make the field.
Stanford head coach David Esquer decided to start senior Alex Williams on the mound, while Connor Noland started for the Razorbacks. Williams struggled in his first two postseason starts, recording a 16.50 ERA. Meanwhile, Noland had turned in several excellent pitching performances in the postseason up to that point, possessing a 2.57 ERA through two starts.
In the very first at-bat of the game, Arkansas lead-off hitter Braydon Webb hit a fly ball to the right field warning track, where freshman outfielder Braden Montgomery was located. However, Montgomery had trouble seeing through the sun, which resulted in the ball bouncing off the wall. Because of Montgomery’s mishap, Webb was able to reach third base. Then, Brady Slavens hit a fly ball to left field that plated Webb and gave the Hogs a 1-0 lead heading into the bottom of the first.
But Stanford’s lead-off man also had an important hit of his own, as junior centerfielder Brock Jones hit a solo home run to tie the game at one apiece. The game remained 1-1 the next three innings, even as both teams had multiple opportunities to score with runners on base.
Arkansas broke the stalemate in the fifth inning when Chris Lanzili hit a three-run home run to left field to put the Razorbacks back in the lead 4-1. After giving up another hit, Williams was replaced by sophomore left handed pitcher Ryan Bruno. Like Williams, Bruno also struggled against this Arkansas lineup, as he gave up a walk, a run by wild pitch and an RBI single before getting out of the fifth inning.
This was the turning point in the game, as Arkansas continued to pile on runs throughout the later innings. The Hogs scored three runs in the seventh inning, two runs in the eighth and six runs in the ninth. Meanwhile, Stanford struggled to find hits against Noland and the Razorbacks’ terrific infield defense.
After Noland came out of the game in the eighth inning, junior second baseman Brett Barrera doubled to right field to plate the Cardinal’s first run since the first inning. However, Stanford was not able to continue the rally and the Razorbacks’ deficit was too much for Stanford to overcome. Arkansas won 17-2 and set the overall record for hits in TD Ameritrade Park.
Following the game, Esquer credited Arkansas for their preparation against his team and maintained hope that the teams would rematch: “They did a good job of preparing for us and pitching to that preparation. Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to see them again, and we’ll see what happens in the rubber match between Stanford and Arkansas.”
After losing to Arkansas, Stanford played against No. 14 Auburn (42-21, 16-13 SEC) in the loser’s bracket. The Tigers had lost to Ole Miss 5-1 in their first game of the CWS.
Like Stanford’s first game of the CWS, Jones got a lead-off hit, dribbling a single through the right side of the infield. After first baseman Carter Graham struck out, Jones stole second base to put a runner in scoring position for Stanford. The steal eventually paid off, as Barrera hit a double to plate Jones and give Stanford an early lead.
Following the first inning, Stanford put another run on board in the second inning when junior shortstop Adam Crampton hit a ball down the third base line with sophomore DH Tommy Troy in scoring position. This extended Stanford’s lead to 2-0 and gave the Cardinal early momentum.
On the other side, Auburn’s offense was putting runners on base during several early innings, but failed to capitalize on the opportunities to bring these runners home. Additionally, the pitchers for both teams began to settle in after a couple of innings, which led to three scoreless innings between the two teams.
After sophomore starting pitcher Drew Dowd gave up a walk and a double in consecutive at-bats during the fifth, junior pitcher Quinn Matthews came in to relieve Dowd. Matthews got out of the fifth inning jam without giving up any runs, but his luck soon ran out.
At the top of the sixth, after getting the lead-off man out, Matthews gave up a single and double in consecutive at-bats to put runners on third and second. After striking out the next batter, Matthews issued two straight walks and gave Auburn its first run. After striking out the succeeding batter, Matthews hung a changeup in the strike zone that was barreled by Cole Foster. The ball hit off the centerfield wall, and all the runners on base scored to give Auburn its first lead of the game, 4-2.
Following the game, Auburn senior outfielder Kason Howell discussed the significance of Foster’s hit: “It was huge. We lost a lot of 3-2 counts and we were battling. Offensively, we haven’t been where we wanted the last couple of games. Cole really put a spark into our offense. You could tell, everyone’s at-bats were a little bit more on the attack after Cole’s big swing.”
Even after his struggles in the sixth inning, Matthews stayed in the game during the seventh. He got into trouble early in the inning, as he gave up a walk and a double to put runners on first and third with no outs. Auburn’s Brody Moore subsequently hit a fly out to left field to score another run. Then Sonny Dichiara struck out, which gave Stanford a chance to get out of the inning with limited damage. However, Matthews did not take advantage, as Bobby Peirce hit a double to left center to give the Tigers an extra insurance run and a 6-2 lead.
The Cardinal did not lay down yet, putting up a rally in the bottom of the seventh with two outs. First, Crampton hammered a double to left center, Jones got hit by a pitch and Graham hit a single to load the bases. It was a prime position for the Cardinal to score since Barrera, the Pac-12 batting champion, was hitting next. But after battling to make it a full count, Barrera struck out. This devastating strike out effectively dashed Stanford’s chances of making a comeback.
In the end, the Tigers defeated the Cardinal 6-2 to avoid elimination but ended Stanford’s illustrious season. While the early exit from Omaha may be a disappointment, the team achieved peaks the program had not seen in a long time. These include winning the Pac-12 regular season championship for the first time since 2018 and being crowned the inaugural Pac-12 Tournament champions.
Looking ahead, it remains to be seen which members of the team will declare for the MLB Draft. Important players like Jones, Barrera and Matthews can elect to come back another year, and their decisions will be vital for the prospects of the team in 2023. Currently, Jones is projected to be a first round pick, while both Barrera and Matthews will likely be drafted in the tenth round or later.
But Stanford also has a lot of key pieces returning, including Pac-12 freshman of the Year Montgomery and the Pac-12 home run leader Graham. In addition to those two, left fielder Eddie Park, third baseman Drew Bowser and Troy will return to the Farm. While the pieces guaranteed to come back will likely slot Stanford in the Top 25 rankings, returning key draft-eligible players could boost the Cardinal to a preseason Top 5 ranking.