Stanford (32-22, 16-14 Pac-12) continued to fight in its late-season resurgence, taking the first two games of its final regular-season series against No. 11 UCLA (39-17, 21-9 Pac-12). But after Sunday’s loss, Stanford was not given a bid to the NCAA Tournament, while the Bruins will be one of the 16 teams to host an NCAA Regional.
On Friday night, senior starting pitcher Mark Appel became the Stanford career strikeout leader with his 364th strikeout on a check swing on the first batter of the game.
In his last start at Sunken Diamond, Appel had a brilliant performance. With Theo Epstein, the Chicago Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations, sitting a few rows behind home plate to scout him, Appel picked up nine strikeouts while allowing only one run on three hits in eight innings.
But even with Appel’s strong outing on the mound, the victory was far from secure. UCLA starting pitcher Adam Plutko went blow for blow with Appel, keeping Stanford off the board through five innings.
The Cardinal offense came alive in the sixth with a bloop double down the left field line by senior designated hitter Justin Ringo, an RBI triple by sophomore rightfielder Austin Slater after Slater failed on a bunt attempt and a sacrifice fly from junior first baseman Brian Ragira. Just like that, Stanford had a 2-1 lead.
That would be all the support Appel would need. Senior relief pitcher Garrett Hughes came on to secure the save, sending the Bruins down in order with two strikeouts and a fly out to start senior weekend off with a key 2-1 victory.
“It’s been a great career here,” Hughes said. “I love this place. It’s got a lot of sentimental value to me. To be able to come out here Friday night and finish it off, it was a really special feeling.”
On Saturday, it was a freshman, not a senior, who came up big on the mound for the Cardinal. After sophomore starting pitcher John Hochstatter left the game trailing 2-1 with two runners on base and no one out in the fifth inning, freshman relief pitcher Logan James shut the Bruins down.
James allowed only one inherited run to score on two consecutive groundouts before retiring the side in the fifth. James stayed on the mound into the ninth inning, going 4.2 innings while allowing no runs on three walks and only one hit to earn the victory.
An error and a walk in the ninth inning stopped James from completing the game, as junior reliever Sam Lindquist came on with two outs in the ninth and struck out the only batter he faced for the save.
While James kept UCLA at bay, Stanford’s bats rallied in the fifth through seventh innings to score six runs and secure a 7-3 victory. In the fifth inning, sophomore third baseman Alex Blandino and junior shortstop Lonnie Kauppila singled to start off the fifth, Ringo moved the pair over with a sacrifice bunt and a wild pitch allowed Blandino to score, bringing the score to 3-2.
In the sixth, four consecutive singles with one out from sophomore leftfielder Wayne Taylor, junior catcher Brant Whiting, Blandino and Kauppila knocked in a run and loaded the bases. After Ringo struck out, Slater came up with a clutch two-RBI single to put Stanford ahead 5-3. Junior Danny Diekroeger added an insurance run in the seventh when he tripled and later scored on a wild pitch. The 7-3 victory gave Stanford the series.
The Cardinal entered Sunday’s contest knowing that, with the team sitting right on the bubble, a victory could be the difference between making the postseason and falling just short.
After UCLA scored a run off senior starting pitcher Dean McArdle in the top of the first, Stanford fought back with three runs of its own to pump up the large crowd of 2,679 for the regular-season finale.
Ringo scored on a Ragira double play to tie the game, but the bases were cleared with two outs. Junior centerfielder Austin Wilson then was hit by a 3-2 pitch and Diekroeger, Blandino and Kauppila all singled to knock in two more runs and take a 3-1 lead.
But UCLA came right back to tie things up in the top of the second. With the bases loaded and only one out, McArdle walked UCLA shortstop Pat Valaika to give UCLA a free run. On the next batter, McArdle fell behind 3-0 and eventually gave up a walk on a wild pitch, allowing two runs to score. That would end McArdle’s day, with Stanford turning to Lindquist to try to keep the game close.
Lindquist did his job, allowing only one unearned run in 4.1 innings to keep Stanford within striking distance. But the Cardinal bats couldn’t muster any runs between the first and ninth innings, falling behind 6-3 after a Blandino throwing error turned into two unearned runs in the seventh.
After Garrett Hughes held the Bruins to only one unearned in the final three innings, Stanford had one last chance at a comeback to try to sway the selection committee with one final victory. But it had to come against UCLA’s star closer David Berg, who entered the game with only four earned runs allowed in 63 innings.
That didn’t stop Blandino from trying to atone for his error. The sophomore took a 0-1 pitch and put it over the left-field fence for a solo homer — his seventh of the season — to cut the lead to two.
“Nobody likes to be an out in the last inning of the last game of the year,” Blandino said. “I think [Berg] left one in the middle of the plate there and I just put a good swing on it.”
Kauppila followed Blandino with a single, bringing the tying run to the plate. After Taylor grounded out to second base, advancing Kauppila to second, head coach Mark Marquess decided to have sophomore outfielder Dominic Jose pinch-hit for Whiting, the team’s leading hitter with a .344 average.
Jose made good contact on a 0-2 pitch but grounded out to second base to give UCLA a 6-4 win and end Stanford’s 2013 season.
The Cardinal’s postseason fate was sealed when Stanford’s name wasn’t called during the NCAA Championships Selection Show at 9 a.m. on Monday. Stanford hoped its conference standings — tied for fourth with Arizona State — and its 7-3 Pac-12 series record would be enough to earn an at-large berth, but nonconference struggles doomed the Cardinal.
The next important event for Stanford is next week’s Major League Baseball Draft, where many of Stanford’s juniors and seniors are expected to be selected. Which juniors decide to sign with an MLB team and which decide to return to Stanford for a senior year could be critical to Stanford’s 2014 hopes.
The MLB Draft runs from June 6-8, with Appel, Wilson, Ragira and junior pitcher A.J. Vanegas — who missed most of the season with a back injury and then mononucleosis — potentially being early-round picks.
Contact Sam Fisher at safisher ‘at’ stanford.edu.