Sparked by another masterful outing from senior starting pitcher Mark Appel Friday night, No. 16 Stanford overwhelmed No. 23 Texas for a three-game home sweep to extend the Cardinal’s winning streak to eight.
Stanford (9-2) took the series opener Friday night over Texas (6-5), topping the Longhorns 2-0. The Cardinal scored two runs before Texas sophomore starter Parker French could record an out in the bottom of the first and coasted behind its dominant starting pitcher the rest of the way.
Appel (2-1) pitched his second consecutive gem to lead Stanford. Last week, scouts said his one-run, 11-strikeout performance was perhaps the best game he had ever pitched. That mark didn’t even survive a week.
Continuing to mix in more of his changeup, Appel made every Longhorn look silly. The ace struck out 14—tying his career-high—while going the distance for a three-hit shutout.
“When you’re pounding your fastball down, which is something I’ve been really focusing on this year, the changeup is a lot more effective,” Appel said. “And then, I think last year, and sophomore year, I would try to guide it a little bit and now I feel I’m just throwing it and it’s getting that good downward action. It’s an effective pitch.”
On Saturday, Stanford’s bats and bullpen took over, rescuing sophomore starting pitcher John Hochstatter. Hochstatter struggled with his command and lasted only three innings, but was able to keep the Longhorns scoreless, thanks in large part to a rare defensive feat in the first inning.
After Hochstatter loaded the bases with no outs to start the game, Texas’s four-hitter sent a line drive toward junior second baseman Danny Diekroeger. Diekroeger stabbed it and fired to junior shortstop Lonnie Kauppila and Kauppila threw back to junior Brian Ragira at first base to complete the triple play and keep Texas off the board.
Amazingly, it was the second time in the last two years that Diekroeger turned a triple play. In summer-league ball after his freshman season, with Diekroeger playing second base, his team turned an around-the-horn triple play—third base to Diekroeger at second base to first base—on a ground ball to third.
The all-junior triple play set the tone for the rest of the day, as Stanford never lost the momentum en route to an easy 7-2 victory. Freshman Daniel Starwalt (2-0) scattered three hits and a walk and struck out three in 3.1 scoreless innings in relief of Hochstatter to earn the victory.
Diekroeger’s exciting day wasn’t done yet either. The junior doubled Stanford’s lead to 2-0 in the fifth inning with a towering solo home run to right field. Diekroeger’s fast start to the season has been a big part of Stanford’s early season success.
“I don’t think a lot of people saw it coming,” Diekroeger told The Bootleg’s David Lombardi. “We don’t really have the same big-name guys that we did maybe last year and the year before but the bullpen and the whole pitching staff has carried our team this year, no doubt.”
The Cardinal sealed the victory with a four-run seventh inning. Senior designated hitter Justin Ringo continued the hot start to his season with an RBI single to start the scoring. Then, a pair of sophomores who haven’t started with as much of a bang as Ringo, left fielder Dominic Jose and catcher Wayne Taylor, added an RBI single and a two-RBI single respectively to cap off the inning.
Stanford came within one out of shutting out the Longhorns completely for the second straight day. Junior pitcher Sam Lindquist gave up a two-run single to Erich Weiss with two outs in the top of the ninth, but then retired Payton to finish off the game and earn his second save of the season.
On Sunday, runs were at a premium once again. Freshman starter Bobby Zarubin continued his remarkable ascent in the pitching staff, throwing eight innings of one-run ball in his first career start. In 18.2 innings of work over three appearances, Zarubin has allowed just two runs, good for a 0.96 ERA.
Zarubin struggled with his command early, much like Hochstatter the day before. In the third, he walked the bases loaded and allowed one run before escaping the jam. It looked like his day might have been destined to end early, but he made an adjustment and caught fire.
“Coach Filter kind of talked it out,” Zarubin said. “He said he wants me to throw a little more fastballs, let them get themselves out, instead of just throwing a bunch of splitters up there hoping they’re swinging and missing. It drives up your pitch count, so I had my defense help me out a little bit.”
After the third inning, Zarubin allowed only one Texas base runner on a two-out walk in the fourth to designated hitter Ben Johnson—who got thrown out trying to steal during the next at-bat to end the inning—until senior Garrett Hughes (2-0) got called in to relieve Zarubin for the ninth inning. Zarubin and Hughes combined to hold Texas to only two hits on the afternoon.
For Zarubin, who was recruited mostly as an infielder and played solely infield for the fall practice season, his performance isn’t a dream come true—it’s a dream he couldn’t even imagine.
“It’s crazy, man. I came in as an infielder,” Zarubin said. “If you would’ve asked me my first day here at Stanford, ‘what position do you think you’re going to be playing?’ I never would’ve even guessed pitcher, let alone the Sunday starter.”
But the way Zarubin has pitched over the past three weekends, it looks like he’ll be a weekend starter for a while. The combination of power-righty Appel, slow-throwing-lefty Hochstatter, and the splitter-throwing-righty Zarubin has left hitters clueless. On Sunday, with Stanford only able to manage one run through Zarubin’s eight innings of work, Zarubin’s shutdown performance was vital.
In the bottom of the ninth, after Dominic Jose flied out to lead off the inning, sophomore third baseman Alex Blandino singled up the middle to put the winning run on base. That brought up Kauppila, who capped off a brilliant defensive weekend with a walk-off double to right-center field.
“They’d been pounding me in the whole entire weekend so I’ve been kind of cheating that way,” Kauppila told KZSU after the game. “I knew he was going to come back at me with another fastball so I kind of just sat on it, got really inside of it and poked it to right and once I saw it get in the gap I was extremely happy and I knew the game would be over.”
Blandino wasn’t sure it was over as soon as Kauppila was.
“I went hard off first,” Blandino said. “I saw it in the gap and I knew I had a chance to score right away. I knew it was slicing away from the centerfielder. I saw Deano [Stotz] waving hard, waving hard. I knew I had to go. And then I had a pretty good feeling rounding third that I was going to make it and I was just pumped, ready to celebrate.”
Stanford will head back on the road for a Tuesday evening contest at Santa Clara (6-6). First pitch is scheduled for 6:00 p.m., as the Cardinal will look to make it nine straight victories.
Contact Sam Fisher at safisher “at” stanford.edu.