The No. 2 Stanford baseball team concluded its stellar non-conference season with a series win over No. 4 Rice this weekend, moving to 13-2 on the year after taking two of three from the Owls (13-4) at Sunken Diamond.
The Cardinal battled back from early Rice leads on Friday and Saturday even with junior centerfielder and team-leading .404 hitter Jake Stewart shelved with a back injury, but then fell flat in a 1-0 Sunday finale that left much to be desired from Stanford’s powerful bats. The three-game tilt marked the first time that the Cardinal has failed to score 20 runs in a weekend, and the three-through-six slots in the lineup had no hits on Friday and Sunday.
After cruising through one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country, though, the Cardinal is still the clear headliner in the competitive Pac-12 leading into conference play later this month.
Stanford will benefit in Pac-12 play from some of the depth it showed off Friday night, with junior Justin Ringo inserted into the lineup in Stewart’s stead for just his ninth career start.
“I found out literally like 40 minutes before the game [that I’d be starting],” Ringo said. “I was excited, I was nervous, but through the game I got more comfortable, and I just tried to do my thing.”
Ringo would prove the hero in one of the Cardinal’s tightest games of the season, which went into extra innings with the score 2-2. Junior righthander Mark Appel gave up just four hits and set a career high in strikeouts (14) for the second straight week, going nine full innings and keeping the Owls off the scoreboard after they jumped out to a 2-0 first-inning lead. A sac bunt by Ringo in the third frame put two runners in scoring position, and they promptly came home on a wild pitch and a groundout from junior third baseman Stephen Piscotty, yet the Cardinal had only mustered four hits entering the 10th inning.
Freshman closer David Schmidt bounced back from a leadoff single in the 10th, and junior outfielder Tyler Gaffney drew a one-out walk in Stanford’s half of the inning. Ringo came to the plate still looking for his first hit of the season, and instead walloped the first pitch he saw over the right-field fence to win the opener for the Cardinal.
“It’s tough coming in, not playing every single day, and just getting comfortable, and I was just missing balls all game,” he said. “I was joking about hitting a walk-off earlier during the game, and when it happened, I was in shock. I didn’t know what to do. I just ran as fast as I could around the bases.”
Stanford’s lineup ran away with the Saturday clincher, scoring in every inning from the second to the seventh in an 11-6 shootout that saw both teams put up double digits in hits. Rice scored in the first frame for the second straight game, but sophomore shortstop Lonnie Kauppila singled home a run in the bottom of the second, and junior catcher Eric Smith doubled home two more to make it 3-1. Piscotty doubled in the third, and sophomore first baseman Brian Ragira singled him home in response to a two-run Owl half of the inning, as the Cardinal retook the lead.
After that rally, though, Stanford wouldn’t relinquish the advantage again. Kauppila and Smith singled to lead off the fourth and came home on sophomore rightfielder Austin Wilson’s third home run of the season, a long fly ball that cleared the leftfield fence with ease. A leadoff homer by Ragira in the fifth frame for his third hit of the afternoon made it 8-3, and Piscotty tacked on another run by singling home Gaffney.
A Smith double and Wilson single added two more runs in the seventh to cap Stanford’s scoring, yet Rice kept fighting, dinging up junior reliever Dean McArdle for three scores in two innings. But the Cardinal had built enough of a lead to get redshirt junior lefthander Brett Mooneyham his fourth win of the year, as the Atwater, Calif., native has yet to drop a decision in his first four starts.
For all the offense on Saturday, though, the series finale on Sunday turned into a duel between two freshman righthanders, Stanford’s John Hochstatter and Rice’s Jordan Stephens. The pair put up nearly identical lines: 6.2 innings pitched, no earned runs, three walks and two strikeouts apiece, with neither allowing more than five hits.
In the end it was the Cardinal’s defense that proved costly, as Piscotty made his sixth error of the season to put a second Owl runner on in the third with just one out. Junior rightfielder Jeremy Rathjen promptly singled home the game’s only run, and Stanford’s offense failed to back up Hochstatter (3-1), who still has a dominant 1.09 ERA in his first year on the Farm despite his first career loss.
“[1-0 games] are the exciting ones, and this time we fell on the wrong side of it, but it’s always fun to compete like that,” Hochstatter told GoStanford.com. “It was a big game, but I think taking the series was big, and you’ve just got to look forward. With a team like we have, we’re going to bounce back real quick.”
The Cardinal now has two weeks off for finals before opening the Pac-12 season at home against USC. After a 7-0 start, the Trojans (12-3) fell out of the rankings coming into last weekend thanks to three straight losses against Pepperdine and North Carolina, but bounced back with a home sweep of CSU Bakersfield and No. 9 UCLA in the third annual Dodgertown Classic on Tuesday night.
USC will actually begin its conference season a week in advance of its trip to the Farm, hosting Utah in a three-game tilt this coming weekend.
The Cardinal and Trojans will play next Saturday, Sunday and Monday at Sunken Diamond, and Stanford will continue its busy start to spring quarter with a one-game trip to UC-Davis on Tuesday.