With ferocious competition at the top of the conference standings, both No. 22 Stanford and No. 15 California came into this weekend with aspirations of moving up at the expense of a big rival. Though both teams were relatively evenly matched, Stanford (21-13, 10-5 Pac-10) swept the series, taking three close wins from the Golden Bears (23-14, 8-7).
“I felt that we had good clutch hitting,” said head coach Mark Marquess. “We got some big hits with people on base, and I thought that made a big difference…We couldn’t stop them very much, but we had enough.”
The hero of the weekend was undoubtedly freshman third baseman Kenny Diekroeger. His sacrifice fly in the ninth inning on Friday gave the Card its first walk-off win of the series, and he delivered again on Sunday afternoon with a ninth-inning single to drive home the winning run.
“For whatever reason, I’ve been in similar situations several times this year,” Diekroeger said. “I’d say I was a little more cool and collected than before. I’ve been there and done that, so I’ve had that experience.”
Friday’s game saw each team’s pitching staff try to outduel the other before Diekroeger’s sacrifice fly gave the Cardinal a 3-2 win.
Sophomore pitcher Brett Mooneyham started the game for Stanford. After a weak start to the season, Mooneyham has pitched very well of late, and he continued his strong efforts against Cal’s lineup. In Friday’s game, he pitched 7.1 innings, allowing just two runs (one earned) to the Bears. After struggling with his control early in the season, Mooneyham seems to have returned to form – he surrendered only three walks, while striking out 10 batters.
Junior Alex Pracher, who came on in relief of Mooneyham, also pitched well. In 1.2 innings, he held the Bears to one hit, while striking out three. He also earned the win for the game, improving his record for the season to 6-2.
However, Cal starter Erik Johnson matched Mooneyham’s effort with an impressive performance of his own, giving up just two runs in eight innings of work. The Bears’ relievers, however, proved unable to sustain Johnson’s performance – in just one inning, reliever Matt Flemer failed to stop Stanford from scoring the winning run.
While the first game of the series turned into a pitcher’s duel, the final two games would not follow the same pattern.
The second game of the series was a classic offensive shootout, with both teams shredding opposing pitching in a race to outgun the other. The Cardinal was able to take the game, 15-12, on the strength of junior second baseman Colin Walsh’s big day at the plate, which included five RBIs and one home run.
Aside from Walsh, Stanford’s offense was led by two freshmen, right fielder Tyler Gaffney and Diekroeger. Both players had two RBIs, and Gaffney hit two doubles in the game.
While the Golden Bears did not have any standout performers, they were led offensively by first baseman Mark Canha and catcher Eddie Hsieh, who each had two RBIs.
Though both teams were pulling out all the stops offensively, their pitching and defense left a lot to be desired. The Cardinal used five pitchers, while the Golden Bears used four.
Sophomore Jordan Pries, who started the game for the Cardinal, was uncharacteristically ineffective. Though he has been Stanford’s best pitcher for most of the season, he struggled against Cal, giving up four runs in just 3.2 innings of work.
Errors were also a major factor, with Cal committing four errors and Stanford committing three.
The series’ final game did not fail to deliver the same kind of late-inning drama and high-powered offense that had come to characterize the weekend.
While Stanford jumped out to an early lead with a big five-run rally in the first inning, Cal clawed back, scoring in the third, fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings to take a 10-8 lead heading into the ninth. The Cardinal was able to mount a three-run rally to win the game in the bottom of the ninth to take the game by a score of 11-10.
Gaffney and Diekroeger were critical to that final inning – Gaffney started the rally with a deep double that hit the center field wall, and Diekroeger ended it by driving in the game-winning run.
Other big offensive contributors included freshman designated hitter Justin Ringo and junior first baseman Jonathan Kaskow, who each had two RBIs.
For Cal, the top of the lineup was extremely productive, driving in eight of the team’s 10 runs. Its top three offensive players were Canha, catcher Chadd Krist and shortstop Marcus Semien.
Cal’s defense was not nearly as strong as its offense, however. For the second game in a row, the Bears proved to be porous, committing two critical errors.
The pitching staffs of each team found themselves besieged again. Both teams used four pitchers in the game. While sophomore Brian Busick, the Stanford starter, managed to last three innings, Cal starter Dixon Anderson was pulled from the game within just 0.2 innings pitched, after giving up five runs to the Cardinal offense.
After this series, Stanford now stands at second place in the Pac-10, just one game behind No. 1 Arizona State.
“[The sweep] is huge because it puts us two games ahead of Cal,” Marquess said. “They were one game ahead of us before we started…We’re one game out of first place, so that’s the real significance of it.”
Stanford’s next game is a contest today against Santa Clara. Play will start at 6 p.m. at Santa Clara. The Cardinal’s next Pac-10 series is on the road against Washington, and will start on Friday.