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Baseball: Baserunning proves crucial in final inning as Stanford takes two of three from Huskies

Stanford baseball has exhibited a flair for the dramatic recently, and in clinching a series win at Washington this weekend, the No. 6 Cardinal needed all the late-inning drama it could get to earn a victory in the Saturday rubber game.

Sophomore rightfielder Austin Wilson had hits in all three games this weekend, as the Cardinal got a big series win at Washington to improve its Pac-12 positioning. (IAN GARCIA-DOTY/The Stanford Daily)

Junior third baseman Stephen Piscotty (2-0) got his second win as a reliever in just six days, and Stanford (19-7, 4-5 Pac-12) took advantage of opportunistic ninth-inning baserunning — in the form of a controversial interference call and a classic first-third double steal — to take the series finale 8-6. With the critical midseason win, Stanford moves into a tie for seventh place in the conference.

The Huskies (17-11, 4-5) still took a bite out of the preseason Pac-12 favorite Cardinal, jumping out to an early lead on Friday and winning the second leg of the three-game set 6-4. But after Stanford recently lost four in a row to conference opponents — including a road sweep by Arizona last weekend — Cardinal head coach Mark Marquess got all he could ask for out of his squad’s trip to Washington: a series win.

“We’ve struggled,” Marquess told GoStanford.com after the Saturday clincher. “We’ve been really inconsistent ever since we came back from break. We really haven’t hit the ball very well, and we’ve been a bit sloppy defensively.”

“I was real proud of the way we battled back,” he added.

Junior catcher Eric Smith had seven hits for three RBIs on the trip, while sophomore first baseman Brian Ragira knocked in three runs of his own as he continued a hit streak that now stands at 11 games.

Stanford had a decent game at the plate on Friday, coming up with nine hits, but those base knocks just didn’t come at the right times as the Cardinal stranded eight baserunners. Unfortunately, the squad got off to another slow start. After recording no hits in the first three innings of a 5-2 Thursday win, it took until the top of the fifth — by which point Stanford trailed 3-0 — to break Husky starter Tyler Davis’ no-hitter on a double by sophomore rightfielder Austin Wilson.

The Cardinal did get its first run when Smith singled Wilson home, but Washington’s freshman righthander was on a short leash and got yanked in favor of sophomore righty Tyler Kane, who cleaned things up quickly in relief.

The Huskies, meanwhile, forced redshirt junior lefthander Brett Mooneyham from the game in the bottom of the sixth, improving their lead to 5-1 with a three-hit, two-out rally. Stanford countered by loading the bases with no outs in the top of the seventh but could only bring home two runs, and Washington stretched its lead back to three in the bottom half of the frame.

Back-to-back doubles from Smith and freshman designated hitter Alex Blandino made it 6-4 in the eighth, yet the Huskies would not yield further and Kane escaped with his second win of the season. Mooneyham moved to 5-2, with both losses coming within a week of one another.

On Saturday, the Cardinal would waste no time in grabbing the early lead. A second-inning Smith double turned into a 1-0 advantage when junior second baseman Kenny Diekroeger singled him in, and Smith brought home two more with the bases loaded in the third. Junior centerfielder Jake Stewart doubled home Diekroeger in the next frame to finish building what looked like a comfortable 4-0 lead, with sophomore righthander A.J. Vanegas cruising on the mound in his first start since Feb. 19.

But Washington would crawl back into contention, getting two-out tallies off Vanegas in the fifth and sixth before tying the game with a pair of seventh-inning runs off freshman righty David Schmidt.

Stanford answered with solo homers by Ragira and Diekroeger in the eighth, and Marquess put Piscotty in at pitcher to close things out, hoping that the preseason All-American hitter would come up with the same magic on the mound that spurred him to 3.2 shutout innings earlier in the week against St. Mary’s. The Huskies kept getting clutch hits, though, and after they loaded the bases on a hit batsman and an infield single, senior rightfielder Caleb Brown doubled home two runs to knot things up at six heading to the ninth.

After a leadoff strikeout by Stewart, junior leftfielder Tyler Gaffney reached on a single and moved to third on a base hit by Wilson. The next batter, Piscotty, grounded to third and the speedy Gaffney was caught in a run-down, but he drew an interference call against senior catcher B.K. Santy in between third and home to get the Cardinal an unconventional 7-6 lead.

In the same inning, Ragira struck out with Piscotty attempting to steal second, and banking on getting the third out at second base, Santy threw across the diamond. Piscotty beat the throw, though, and Wilson came home on the double steal to make it 8-6.
An easy bottom of the ninth for Piscotty sealed the series win, as the junior got his second relief victory of the week.

With No. 17 Oregon coming to town for a three-game set this weekend fresh off a series win against No. 7 UCLA, Stanford has to get past the recent slump that has kept it in the bottom half of the Pac-12 standings through the first four weeks of conference play.

“We’ve got a lot of room for improvement, but we’ve got seven more weekends in the league coming up,” Marquess said. “Hopefully if we keep working hard, we’ll get better.”

Before the Ducks come to town, though, the Cardinal has a pair of midweek tests ahead. The Cardinal travels across the Bay to face rival Cal at 2:30 p.m. this afternoon and will host Pacific at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow.

About Joseph Beyda

Joseph Beyda is the executive editor of The Stanford Daily. Previously he has worked as the football editor, a sports desk editor, the paper's summer managing editor and a beat reporter for football, baseball and women's soccer. He co-authored The Daily's recent football book, "Rags to Roses," and covered the soccer team's national title run for the New York Times. Joseph is a senior from Cupertino, Calif. majoring in Electrical Engineering. To contact him, please email jbeyda "at" stanford.edu.