By Joseph Beyda
An up-and-down weekend series at Sunken Diamond left Stanford baseball with two wins over Long Beach State, as the No. 12 Cardinal bounced back after a frustrating Friday loss and take the three-game set.
Stanford moved to 10-6 on the season, with only a home game on Tuesday against St. Mary’s remaining before the Pac-10 season kicks into full swing.
Each game against the Dirtbags (12-11) became a race for six runs, the final mark for the winner of all three matchups.
“Clutch hitting was huge,” said Stanford head coach Mark Marquess. “We were able to get hits with two outs and with two strikes, and that’s exactly what [Long Beach State] did on Friday.”
Stanford fell behind early in the opener and couldn’t recover, stranding 12 baserunners and leaving the bases loaded twice. Mark Appel gave up six runs in the first four innings, moving to 1-3 on a night in which seven starting fielders for the Dirtbags recorded a hit.
Appel and the bullpen held Long Beach State scoreless for the final five innings, but the Cardinal could only muster two runs in six innings off righthander Andrew Gagnon (3-3) in the 6-3 loss.
Saturday’s game time was moved to 5:30 p.m. due to expected rain in the early afternoon, giving Stanford an extra four and a half hours to prepare after a 5:30 p.m. Friday start.
“It helped our guys get some rest, because there was going to be a really quick turnaround,” Marquess said.
The Cardinal got off to a much better start than the night prior with two quick first-inning runs on singles by shortstop Kenny Diekroeger and first baseman Brian Ragira.
Stanford starter Jordan Pries came out strong but made a throwing error after being hit by a Michael Hill comebacker in the fourth, and he threw a wild pitch two batters later to bring Hill around to score. It would prove to be the Dirtbags’ only run.
“It was all reaction,” Pries said. “I tried to reach out and couldn’t catch it, and I got flustered and threw it away, which was a terrible decision.”
The righthander made up for it, however, giving up no earned runs, striking out the side in the sixth and recording seven total punchouts in as many innings. Diekroeger backed him up by recording six outs at short and grabbing a liner over his head and several tough grounders up the middle–an impressive feat on a field that was still slippery from the rain.
And on this night, the Cardinal came through with enough run support to hold its early lead, winning 6-1. Diekroeger and leftfielder Tyler Gaffney–who had stunningly leaped into the bullpen the night before in pursuit of a foul ball without success–each knocked in two runs, while Ragira followed up a hitless Friday with three singles on Saturday.
Following a short turnaround for the 1 p.m. Sunday matchup, Long Beach State roughed up Stanford starter Dean McArdle early in the rubber game. McArdle, who had given up just two earned runs on the season, allowed four in an outing that lasted only 0.2 innings.
“After the first inning, we had to kind of do a gut check,” said third baseman Stephen Piscotty. “We had to get guys on base. That’s the name of the game–baserunners.”
The Cardinal did get baserunners in the second, and came close to making up the deficit. With the bases loaded and no outs, a fly ball by Austin Wilson came just within a few feet of clearing the fence, but was caught by Long Beach left fielder Jeff McNeil. One runner came around to score, but the next batter, second baseman Lonnie Kauppila, grounded into a double play to end the inning.
With the score at 4-1, Stanford loaded the bases again in the third frame and took full advantage of the opportunity. A Piscotty single drove in two runners, and two more came around to score on consecutive errors by the Dirtbags.
Long Beach State tied the game in the sixth, but the Cardinal took a 6-5 lead off another Dirtbag error in the bottom half of the inning.
The Dirtbags only had one more opportunity to draw even. But with runners at the corners and only one out, the Cardinal brought in closer Chris Reed, who retired eight straight batters and struck out four en route to his third save of the season.
Piscotty led Stanford with two hits, two runs and two RBI on the afternoon.
The Cardinal will now prepare to host St. Mary’s (9-11) on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., but more important, Stanford is the quickly approaching Pac-10 season. The Cardinal is picked to finish second in the conference by Pac-10 coaches and will face Washington State (9-10, 0-3 Pac-10) to open conference play. The Cougars were chosen seventh by the coaches but still pose a challenge.
“Every Pac-10 series is a big series,” Piscotty said. “Every team in the Pac-10 is good. But we can’t worry about our opponents much; we just have to focus on ourselves and play to our capabilities.”
The Cardinal has already played one game against a Pac-10 opponent–a 3-2 win over Cal–but the victory did not count towards Pac-10 rankings.