The last week has been anything but a break for the No. 3 Stanford baseball team, which played seven games in eight days to open its conference season. And while a pair of victories against No. 29 USC in a doubleheader got that busy stretch off to a promising start, spring break quickly turned into a humbling experience for the Cardinal (16-6, 2-4 Pac-12), whose sloppy play cost it four Pac-12 games in a row and its first series loss of the season.
No. 15 Arizona — ranked as highly as eighth in some polls before the weekend — may have been picked to finish second in the Pac-12 behind Stanford, but it got a quick series win in Tucson, edging the Cardinal on Friday and Saturday before securing the sweep Sunday with its second straight complete-game performance on the mound.
Stanford’s play over the last several contests seems hardly characteristic of the squad, which jumped out to a 13-2 record before its conference opener thanks to consistent defense and excellent hitting from everyone in the lineup. The Cardinal committed just 15 errors in its first 17 contests but has tacked on 14 more in the last five games alone. Meanwhile, its 1-2-3 batters have combined for just 10 hits over the same stretch.
Those deficiencies began to emerge against the Trojans (16-9, 3-5) who brought a 13-6 record to Sunken Diamond and kept things close all weekend. After the March 24 game was postponed to the following afternoon due to rain, the Cardinal needed a three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth and a two-run, walk-off homer by sophomore rightfielder Austin Wilson to get junior righthander Mark Appel a complete-game win in the series opener.
Junior lefthander Brett Mooneyham and freshman closer David Schmidt held USC to just two runs in the second game that evening, but Stanford could barely squeak out the 3-2 decision. The Cardinal would not escape the mediocre weekend unscathed, committing a season-high six errors — five of them by sophomore shortstop Lonnie Kauppila — in an 8-4 loss that saw freshman starter John Hochstatter last just 1.2 innings.
The squad briefly returned to form on Wednesday after another scheduling irregularity, which saw a rained-out Tuesday trip to UC-Davis replaced at the last minute by a home bout with St. Mary’s. Stanford got three runs on freshman designated hitter Alex Blandino’s first career homer and went on to win 10-4, continuing its midweek dominance of the Gaels (14-12, 1-5 WCC), which came into the Wednesday matchup with the lowest ERA in the country (2.04).
But errors would haunt the Cardinal yet again against Arizona, and Stanford came up short in a weekend series for the first time this season. A passed ball set up a two-RBI single for Blandino to open the scoring in the second inning of the Friday night opener, but Arizona responded with two runs of its own in the bottom half of the frame and jumped out to a 4-3 lead in the third. Stanford showed its resilience, though, knotting things up in the sixth on a poor throw by Wildcat starter Kurt Heyer and adding three more unearned runs on a trio of Arizona errors in the seventh.
Appel rode the 7-4 advantage into the bottom of the ninth, but hit the leadoff batter and quickly walked another. Stanford head coach Mark Marquess then brought in Schmidt, and the freshman gave up a walk of his own and allowed two runs with a one-out single. Senior designated hitter Bobby Brown then added a single which should have just brought home the Wildcats’ seventh tally, but the ball slipped under the glove of sophomore centerfielder Jake Stewart for his first error of the season and the winning run came around to score.
The Saturday matchup between a pair of undefeated starters — 5-0 Mooneyham for the Cardinal and 3-0 sophomore Konner Wade for Wildcats — produced a lower-scoring game than the 8-7 Friday contest. But Stanford’s lefthander was outdueled for the first time this season, as Arizona’s righty pitched a complete-game three-hitter in a 4-2 Wildcat victory.
The Cardinal couldn’t break up the no-hitter until the top of the sixth but grasped a momentary 2-1 lead on a rally set up by a Kauppila infield single and a Stewart double. Yet the Wildcats refused to back down, tacking on two runs of their own — both unearned — in the bottom of the frame.
Stanford couldn’t bring home its two ensuing baserunners in the seventh, couldn’t get another hit off Wade in the final three innings and couldn’t draw even with Arizona, which tacked on an eighth-inning run on Schmidt’s third hit batsman of the season en route to a 4-2 win.
Defense was less of a concern for the Cardinal in the Sunday finale, but the squad’s error-free performance was not nearly enough, as its bats fell silent yet again to give Arizona its first sweep over Stanford in 19 years.
A Wilson triple opened the scoring in the top of the fourth as the Cardinal jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, yet the Wildcats responded with runs in the next three innings to give freshman righty John Hochstatter (3-3) his third straight loss. Sophomore righthander James Farris (4-1) tossed a six-hit complete game for Arizona in its 6-2 victory.
As little production as Stanford has gotten out of its offense over the last week, though, sophomore first baseman Brian Ragira has shown flashes of brilliance. He came up with two hits off Farris and is currently riding an eight-game hit streak.
Stanford will hope to revive the rest of its lineup again tonight against the Gaels, which will come to Sunken Diamond for the second time in six days. Though the Cardinal beat St. Mary’s 5-0 on the road earlier this season before last week’s 10-4 win, both teams come into this matchup fatigued just a day after returning from weekend road trips.