All three games were nail-biters, but great pitching and timely hitting led No. 11 Stanford to a three-game sweep of visiting Fresno State at Sunken Diamond.
Stanford (5-2) took the series opener Friday night, 3-1. Senior starting pitcher Mark Appel (1-1) pitched a gem to earn his first victory on the mound since a 9-1 win over the same Fresno State Bulldogs in Stanford’s first game of the 2012 Palo Alto Regional on June 1.
In the words of many of the 30-plus scouts in attendance Friday night, it may have been the best Appel has ever looked in a start. In his first time through the lineup, Appel used mostly his fastball and slider, but as the game went on, he threw a lot more of his changeup en route to complete domination of the Bulldogs — Appel retired 16 of the last 17 batters he faced.
“His slider was better than I’d ever seen,” Scout.com’s National Baseball Expert Kiley McDaniel said about Appel. “If he pitches like that the rest of the year… he’s going to be a slam dunk for the No. 1 pick.”
Senior designated hitter Justin Ringo contributed in a big way to the winning effort once again. Ringo knocked in junior Brian Ragira with a first inning single before scoring the winning run on a bases-loaded walk from junior Brett Michael Doran.
“We were having good at bats all day,” Ringo said. “We were hitting balls hard. I don’t think anyone was really worried; it was just a matter of when it was going to happen. We knew Mark was going to keep us in the game; he always does. He’s amazing.”
Doran’s bases-loaded walk turned out to be only the second most important play of his weekend.
On Saturday, after a Fresno State comeback sent the game to extra innings, Doran delivered the most clutch at bat of his Cardinal career. With runners on first and second with nobody out, Doran took a 1-2 pitch from Jordan Brink deep to left field for a walk-off home run, clinching a series win for Stanford.
“When I was going up there I knew I was probably going to bunt,” Doran said. “So I was trying to get the bunt down — get runners to second and third with only one out. Missed the bunt, so I was like ‘alright I’ve just got to put together a good at bat and battle through it.’ Luckily he left me a pitch up in the zone and I hit it.”
Doran’s homer bailed out freshman pitcher Daniel Starwalt, who gave up two runs — one earned — to allow Fresno State to tie the game in the ninth. Sophomore starting pitcher John Hochstatter got the no-decision after a great start. The sophomore allowed two runs — on a home run by Taylor Ward in the third — in 6.1 innings, finishing with seven strikeouts.
Ragira also starred in Sunday’s contest, going two for three with two RBI and two runs scored. Ragira and sophomore Austin Slater were the only two Cardinal hitters to record multiple hits on the afternoon. Stanford turned five Fresno State errors into two unearned runs to help send the game to extra innings.
On Sunday, Stanford looked to sweep behind freshman left-handed pitcher Logan James. In his first career start at Rice on the season’s opening weekend, James struggled early — the first three Owls he faced scored — before buckling down. He took the loss, as Stanford fell 3-0.
Against Fresno State, James started slowly again, allowing two runs — one earned — in the top of the first inning. But unlike the week before at Rice, James couldn’t find his command in the second, allowing another run before being pulled from the game before the start of the third inning.
Freshman right hander Bobby Zarubin came in to try to keep the game close after Stanford cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 3-1 in the bottom of the second. Zarubin rose to the occasion, keeping Fresno State off the scoreboard until the seventh inning, when Aaron Judge hit the longest home run of the season to tie the game at four.
In the bottom of the eighth, Stanford finished off its comeback to give Zarubin his first comfortable lead of the afternoon. Sophomore catcher Wayne Taylor knocked in freshman centerfielder Drew Jackson from first on an opposite-field double to give Stanford a one-run edge. Then, two batters later, Danny Diekroeger sealed the victory with a two-run homer to right field — his first of the season — to give Stanford a 7-4 lead.
Zarubin came within one out of finishing the game himself, but Stanford pitching coach Rusty Filter elected to go with junior Sam Lindquist for the one-out save. Lindquist retired Taylor Ward on a weak grounder to shortstop to finish the sweep of the Bulldogs.
Zarubin finished with 6.2 innings pitched, eleven strikeouts and one run allowed to earn the victory, the first of his Stanford career.
In the end, the friendly confines of Sunken Diamond gave Stanford the boost it needed after a tough opening series loss at Rice. Stanford has won four straight games since returning from Houston, all of which were played at Sunken Diamond.
“We play so much better at home,” Ringo said. “It’s just so much easier to play in front of the home crowd, especially when Mark goes nine innings and gives up one run. That’s also very nice.”
Stanford will head back on the road Tuesday for an early afternoon contest against Saint Mary’s. First pitch is scheduled for 2:00 p.m.
Contact Sam Fisher at safisher “at” stanford.edu.