It’s safe to say that No. 25 Stanford baseball and head coach Mark Marquess missed Mark Appel ’13 in the team’s opening series against No. 15 Rice.
For the first time in his 38 seasons at the helm of the baseball program, Marquess sent three freshman starting pitchers to the mound to open the season. That inexperience, combined with an anemic offensive display and some sloppy defense, led to consecutive losses in noncompetitive games: 10-3 on Friday and 5-1 on Saturday. Yet on Sunday, Stanford seemed to send out a completely different team both offensively and defensively, scoring 12 unanswered runs after the fifth inning to salvage a 12-3 comeback victory.
For Friday’s opener, the Card tapped Ontario native Cal Quantrill for the start. He became the first Stanford freshman to start on Opening Day since Mike Mussina got the call in 1988, the last year Stanford won the national championship. Though some nerves in his first collegiate appearance created some early control issues, Quantrill settled down over the course of the day, demonstrating the poise he acquired over three years of pitching in high-stakes games for U18 Team Canada.
After a leadoff walk for Rice and a fielder’s choice, junior Skyler Ewing hit a line drive to right-center field that was bobbled by Stanford junior center fielder Austin Slater. Rice senior Keenan Cook ended up scoring all the way from first, and the Cardinal quickly found itself behind 1-0. It was just the start of a host of defensive misplays and errors for Stanford in the game, which together accounted for five unearned runs.
The Cardinal showed some signs of life in the bottom of the second, when sophomore right fielder Zach Hoffpauir launched a three-run-bomb to left on a 2-1 hanging curveball. It was just the third hit of Hoffpauir’s baseball career and gave him his first three RBI, which put the Cardinal up 3-1.
Yet the lead didn’t last very long. The Owls hacked away with a run in the top of the fourth after consecutive two-out hits off Quantrill, who had shown promise early in the inning by mixing pitches with strong placement.
In the top of the fifth, Rice singled three consecutive times off Quantrill and plated one before the Cardinal sent in another freshman righty, Tyler Thorne. Thorne was wild in his first collegiate appearance and allowed a two-run RBI single to Ewing, which gave Rice a 5-3 lead that it didn’t relinquish for the rest of the game.
Quantrill finished with 71 pitches through 4.2 innings, allowing five runs — four earned — on six hits. He struck out six Owls in the outing, proving that although his low-90s fastball is not necessarily overpowering, his off-speed pitches — especially if thrown for strikes — are especially effective.
“I felt good. The heater and the changeup both looked good; I just left a couple up,” Quantrill said. “Overall, it was a pretty average outing.”
Saturday’s game, though scoreless through six innings, seemed like just as much of a blowout, with Rice’s offense threatening nearly every inning and the Cardinal unable to answer back with its own offense.
Freshman Brett Hanewich got the start for Stanford and was hit hard in three-plus innings of work, allowing five hits and three walks on 67 pitches. However, he was able to work out of jams in each inning: Rice had two men on with one out in each frame but was unable to convert any of its opportunities.
The Owls continued to threaten in the next few innings with junior John Hochstatter on the rubber but were still unable to capitalize. It took a solo homer from Ewing to finally get the team on the board, giving the Owls a 1-0 lead.
The Cardinal had its best opportunity to tie the game up and possibly take a lead in the bottom of the seventh, when its first two hitters reached base. Slater then laid down a sacrifice bunt and senior Alex Blandino was intentionally walked. However, the potential rally was quelled when the next two Stanford hitters struck out on seven pitches.
Such struggles in key situations was indicative of the offense as a whole through the first two games, as the Cardinal hit a meager .183 with just two extra-base hits and 22 strikeouts in the first two games in the series.
Sunday’s game was crucial for the Cardinal, as it looked to avoid being swept in its opening series for the first time since a 2007 road trip Cal State-Fullerton.
After getting two quick outs in the first, freshman pitcher Chris Viall allowed a single to right and then on a high fastball, another homer to Ewing, who went 7-for-12 with eight RBI in the series, which gave the Owls an early 2-0 lead.
Viall continued to get hit hard early, as even the outs he was getting were hard-lined shots to the outfield. Yet he settled down and started to throw his off-speed pitches for strikes, and in innings three through five, he allowed just two base runners and shut out the Owls to set up Stanford’s comeback.
“First couple of innings, I was definitely a little bit nervous, but I settled [in] pretty nicely,” said Viall, who earned a win in his first career start. “I learned very quickly that I can’t leave fastballs up.”
The Cardinal offense showed its first signs of life in its opening series with a six-run fifth inning in which the team batted around. Junior left fielder Wayne Taylor and senior designated hitter Brett Michael Doran bookended the scoring in the inning, each with 2-run homers.
Stanford broke open the game a couple of innings later with four runs in the seventh and two in the eighth. Hoffpauir had a two-run shot in the seventh over the left-field fence and Doran, who got only one start in the weekend series, found a way to make the most of his chances, as he was 4-for-7 with the RBI in his pinch-hitting and DH-ing duties.
“We have a lot of guys who can play, including a lot of guys on the bench who are definitely capable players,” Doran said. “So every chance you get, you need to make the most of it, and I was glad I was able to do that today.”
Moving forward, the Cardinal will look to carry the offensive momentum it gained in the final game of this series to San Jose State, which lost two of three to San Diego State this weekend, on Tuesday at 6 p.m. The game will be a small tune-up and a chance to get back to .500 before a trip to hostile Austin, Tex. to take on No. 22 Texas in a three-game set this coming weekend.
Contact Jordan Wallach at jwallach ‘at’ stanford.edu.