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NCAA hopes alive and well after sweep of Utah

The Cardinal baseball team has now done all it can to make its case for a postseason berth. Now, all it can do is wait.

With a sweep of the last-place Utah Utes (16-36, 4-26 Pac-12) in its final act of the season, Stanford (30-23, 16-14 Pac-12) remained on the NCAA Tournament bubble after suffering a setback with its midweek loss to San Jose State two weeks ago. Its fate is now in the hands of the selection committee, which will make its announcement on Monday morning.

(DON FERIA/isiphotos.com)

Sophomore right fielder Zach Hoffpuair (above) hit .615 in the Cardinal’s season-closing sweep over the Utes, including two home runs. He and the Cardinal will learn their postseason destiny at 9 a.m. on Monday. (DON FERIA/isiphotos.com)

“We can’t do more than what we did,” said head coach Mark Marquess. “We got ourselves in position to hopefully go to the postseason; you can’t do more than a sweep, so it was good.”

Heading into the weekend, part of the key for the Cardinal was to get their offense going against a beleaguered Utes pitching staff that carried an ugly 5.05 ERA. And with their postseason hopes lying in the balance, the Cardinal hitters stepped to the plate and delivered an inspired offensive effort, scoring 17 runs and cranking 33 hits over the weekend.

Spearheading that offensive effort was sophomore right fielder Zach Hoffpauir, who continued a stretch of excellent hitting during the second half of the season by hitting .615 over the weekend — including a five-hit performance on Friday — and drove in six runs. In doing so, he raised his season average to .339 — second-best on the team behind junior center fielder Austin Slater.

“[Hoffpauir] has really been swinging it,” said Marquess after the team’s win on Sunday. “He got five hits on Friday and then got the big hit today that won the game for us, and he’s played phenomenally for the last five or six weeks.”

That five-hit outburst for Hoffpauir on Friday backed an offensive outburst that saw the Cardinal knock a season-high 15 hits to back a splendid outing from staff ace and freshman righty Cal Quantrill, who dipped his ERA to 2.92 by giving the team eight strong innings of shutout, four-hit ball.

In just the latest in a string of stellar outings, the Canadian displayed exceptional control as he struck out a career-high 10 batters for the second straight start and walked just two. He threw 120 pitches but only ran into trouble once when he loaded the bases in the 7th before he used a three-pitch strikeout to get out of the jam with his stellar changeup.

Following Quantrill’s gem, the second game of the three-game series was delayed due to rain and forced a doubleheader on Sunday, but the inclement weather did nothing to disrupt the Cardinal’s rhythm.

Junior southpaw John Hochstatter took the hill for the first game of the doubleheader seeking his 10th win of the season and managed to earn just the third 10-win season in Stanford history despite a shaky outing.

While the lefty went just six innings and gave up five earned runs, Stanford’s offense didn’t lose pace and gave him more than enough support. In a three-run third inning, the Cardinal used back-to-back RBI singles from freshman second baseman Tommy Edman and senior first baseman Danny Diekroeger and a sacrifice fly from junior center fielder Austin Slater to pull ahead.

And in the seventh inning facing a one-run deficit, it was again Hoffpauir that provided the spark for the Cardinal offense.

After Slater reached on an error that scored a run and tied the game, Hoffpauir came up to the plate with men on first and second. With the green light to swing on a 3-0 count, Hoffpauir drilled the fastball deep to left, and although the ball initially appeared to leave the ballpark, it was ruled to be in play after taking a tough bounce and the sophomore never broke stride on his 360-foot journey around the diamond, sliding headfirst into home with the first inside-the-park home run of his career to give Stanford a three-run lead.

From there, it was just mop-up duty for senior right-hander A.J. Vanegas, who put that cap on what could have been his final game in a Stanford uniform with a three-inning save.

While the second game of the doubleheader saw the offense take a step back, sophomore lefty Logan James took control and made it a non-issue, tossing 111 pitches in a gutsy 7.2-inning effort in which he gave up just two runs and struck out five. It was the third consecutive start in which he had pitched at least seven innings, and opened the gate for sophomore righty Marcus Brakeman to contribute yet another solid relief outing to end the regular season on a high note for the Cardinal.

And after the series that he’d had to that point, who better than Hoffpauir to give the Cardinal offense the spark in the regular-season finale?

After Slater put the Cardinal on the board with an RBI double, Hoffpauir laid the hammer down with a deep homer to left — this time, of the conventional variety — to give the Cardinal the lead that they would never relinquish.

With the team’s RPI sitting at 47 before the start of the series, Stanford needed a sweep of the Utes to avoid taking a bad hit in the metric leading up to tournament selection. Although the RPI will likely not jump too significantly following the sweep of a last-place team like Utah, the sweep was the Cardinal’s fourth consecutive series win to end the season — a promising flourish for a tournament-hopeful team.

And whether the team’s name is called or not on Monday morning by the committee, the Cardinal have nothing to be ashamed about after clinching its 20th 30-win season in the last 21 years against one of the toughest schedules in the nation. That being said, the team would like nothing more to hear its name called to see what impact it can have in the postseason after missing out last year.

Stanford will learn its fate on Monday morning at 9 a.m. when the selection show airs on ESPNU.

Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027@stanford.edu.

About Do-Hyoung Park

Do-Hyoung Park '16 is the head copy editor and a sports desk editor at The Daily. He has previously served as the Vol. 245 Managing Editor of Sports and primarily writes football, women's soccer and columns that he's pretty sure nobody reads except for him. Do-Hyoung is a junior originally from Seoul, South Korea and raised in Saint Paul, Minnesota pursuing a major in chemical engineering. To contact him, please email him at dpark027 'at' stanford.edu.