Stanford baseball slipped back below .500 in Pac-10 play in rainy Eugene this weekend, losing twice to Oregon in a three-game series that could have turned out much worse for the Cardinal.
Coming off a six-game winning streak, No. 25 Stanford (28-18, 10-11 Pac-10) was outscored 14-3 by the Ducks in the first game and a half before rallying for a dramatic Saturday victory behind freshman hitting. But ninth-place Oregon (26-24-1, 7-14) came up with enough defensive gems on Sunday to halt another late rally from the Cardinal, taking the series and pushing Stanford back to sixth in the conference.
Stanford came into Eugene with a 4-6 record in the series opener, and the unsettling trend continued with another slow Cardinal start to the three-game set. Oregon lefthander Tyler Anderson (7-2) was impressive in seven innings of work, yielding just four hits and holding Stanford to one unearned run. The Cardinal’s only other tally came in the ninth — when freshman right fielder Austin Wilson scored after a leadoff double that extended his 12-game hit streak — but after a five-day, five-game stretch last week that saw Stanford score six or more runs in each contest, the firepower on Friday fell short in a 6-2 loss.
Fewer than half of Oregon’s batters were able to figure out Cardinal starter Mark Appel; nevertheless, of the four Ducks that had hits, a trio — second baseman Danny Pulfer, designated hitter Kyle Garlick and shortstop KC Serna — recorded three each. Four Stanford errors and a season-high five walks by Appel proved costly, with the sophomore righthander falling to 4-6 on the season.
Matters were looking even worse for the Cardinal on Saturday. After chasing senior Danny Sandbrink with four runs in 1.1 innings, the Ducks scored in each of the first five frames to build an 8-1 lead. Juniors A.J. Talt and Chris Reed were finally able put a stopper to the Oregon onslaught and give Stanford a chance to come back. The duo combined for five spotless innings of relief and gave up no hits to a Duck squad that had 23 base-knocks in the first 14 frames of the series.
Stanford loaded the bases with three singles to start the sixth, and a pair of freshman bats sparked the beginnings of a rally. One run came around on a sacrifice fly by designated hitter Danny Diekroeger, followed by a clutch, two-out double by second baseman Lonnie Kauppila that cut the Oregon lead to four.
To shut down Stanford in the seventh, the Ducks brought in senior Kellen Moen, who led Oregon pitchers in opposing batting average and ERA coming into the contest. The move quickly backfired.
In 34.1 innings this season, Moen had allowed only six earned runs, yet it took Stanford just two thirds of an inning to bridge the four-run gap. Senior catcher Zach Jones and sophomore centerfielder Tyler Gaffney battled from two-strike counts to get on base with consecutive singles before sophomore third baseman Stephen Piscotty doubled on his first pitch to bring them both home. Moen never had a chance to settle down, and freshman first baseman Brian Ragira ripped a triple on the next at-bat to cut the lead to one.
Moen was pulled, but sophomore shortstop Kenny Diekroeger came through again for the Cardinal with a game-tying single. An eighth-inning single by Jones made for a 9-8 lead, which Stanford held for the victory.
Jones picked up where he left off in the rubber game, leading off the game with a triple and coming home on a Gaffney sacrifice. But as the Cardinal had demonstrated on Saturday afternoon, no lead was safe in this series, and Oregon promptly knotted the game up in the second. Another Stanford lead was erased by the Ducks, who reversed the momentum with a two-run double by outfielder Brett Thomas to make it 4-3 in favor of Oregon.
The Cardinal chipped away in turn, tying the game in the fifth and again in the seventh before the Ducks took another one-run lead in the bottom half of the frame. Stanford seemed poised to come back for a third time in the eighth inning when Jones singled with two runners on, but Oregon right fielder Aaron Jones (no relation) gunned out senior Dave Giuliani at the plate to maintain the Duck lead. Serna shut down a final Stanford threat in the ninth, making a diving throw to get the second out of the inning on a sharply hit ball that had struck him in the groin.
Oregon’s strong defensive play was stifling in the 6-5 loss for Stanford, which benefited from three strong innings of relief from sophomore Dean McArdle. An unearned run meant a loss for McArdle (7-3), who stranded four Ducks in scoring position to make up for as many walks.
Regaining offensive consistency will be a concern for the Cardinal, which is missing one of its key hitters in sophomore outfielder Jake Stewart due to appendicitis. Freshmen batters have begun to fill that void, combining for six of Stanford’s 13 RBI over the weekend.
The Cardinal hosts San Francisco at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday before a crucial three-game series against Arizona at home next weekend. The Wildcats are a half game ahead of Stanford with a 10-11 record in Pac-10 play.