February isn’t known for being a month of big-time baseball games, but don’t tell that to the two teams taking the field for a three-game series at UFCU Disch-Falk Field this weekend.
It will be a battle between two teams fighting to get back into the top 25, between two legendary coaches with a combined 3,374 wins, between promising young talent and seasoned veterans and between cardinal red and burnt orange.
Beginning on Friday in Austin, Stanford (2-2) and Texas (3-2) will resume their annual three-game series with both teams having followed similar openings to the seasons.
The Cardinal dropped the first two games of its season against Rice before taking the final game of the series on Sunday and dispatching local rival San Jose State on Tuesday to climb back to a .500 record. Across the Bay, the Longhorns lost their first two games to Cal before taking the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader and winning the final game of the series on Sunday before returning home to trounce local challenger Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Tuesday to reach a record of 3-2.
But the similar arcs to start the season are where the similarities come to an end. Although Stanford owns a six-game winning streak in the series, the Card will be bringing an extremely young team into its first true road test of the season as the only team in the country to have started a freshman pitcher in all of its games in 2014.
Texas, meanwhile, possesses one of the most experienced pitching staffs in all of college baseball. The Longhorns return two of their strongest pitchers from last season in junior Parker French and senior Nathan Thornhill. In addition to the returning starters, UT’s pitching staff looks to be even stronger with the addition of junior college standout Lukas Shiraldi and the return of junior righty Justin Peters, who redshirted last season.
“[Texas] has a lot more pitching than [Rice] has,” Stanford head coach Mark Marquess remarked after Stanford’s season-opening loss to the Owls. “Texas has all of their starting pitchers back and [future opponent] Vanderbilt is really loaded. We’ve just got to keep our head above water if we can for the next three or four weeks.”
Although Texas has not named its starters, expect French, who served as the team’s Friday night pitcher last season and thus far in 2014, to take the mound for the opening game. Last season, the righty finished with a 4-5 record and a 2.68 ERA.
Not only do the Longhorns possess a lot of firepower on the mound, but they also feature an explosive lineup that has outscored its opponents 21-2 in its wins this season. In particular, Texas boasts an extremely dangerous top of the batting order in junior infielder Brooks Marlow, senior outfielder Mark Payton and sophomore infielder C.J. Hinojosa. Payton is the reigning Big 12 Player of the Week after recording a double, triple, home run and three RBIs in a 9-for-17 series against Cal. In addition, the senior leads the Big 12 in both batting average (.524) and triples (2).
Meanwhile, the Cardinal has had its own share of success behind the plate in victories this season, having scored 22 combined runs in its two victories. Senior first baseman Danny Diekroeger has hit safely in each of his previous four games against Longhorns, and the senior is coming off of two straight three-hit games.
Senior designated hitter Brett Michael Doran has also started the season on a tear, currently holding a .600 batting average with six RBIs. Junior center fielder Austin Slater, who has six RBIs of his own on the season, and sophomore right fielder Zach Hoffpauir, who leads the team with two home runs, will also look to carry the offensive load for Stanford.
In the end, the most crucial element to this series will be Stanford’s pitching as the Cardinal will look to rely on freshman starters in a hostile road environment. Righties Cal Quantrill, Brett Hanewich and Chris Viall showed a lot of promise in their season debuts, and Stanford will most likely look to them to eat up a lot of innings against the aggressive bats of the Longhorns.
As mentioned earlier, this year’s showdown between Stanford and Texas will be the latest clash between two titans in the world of college baseball, Stanford’s Marquess and Texas’ Augie Garrido. Marquess and Garrido have a combined seven national titles and have faced off in each season since 1998, including the 2002 College World Series semifinals in Omaha, Neb., which was won by Texas.
The series will open on Friday in Austin at 4 p.m. with games two and three slotted for Saturday at noon and Sunday at 11 a.m., respectively.
Contact Vihan Lakshman at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.