Widgets Magazine

Baseball sees a turnaround in series win against UCLA

North fought South this weekend in the world of Pac-10 baseball, with Stanford meeting UCLA in a series between the two teams picked to finish best in the conference this year. But while the No. 11 Bruins came into the series tied for second in the conference, the slumping Cardinal was in desperate need for wins, having fallen to seventh in the Pac-10 and 26th in the country.

It looked like things would only get worse for Stanford, until a two-out, four-run rally in the final inning of the three-game set secured a series win for the Cardinal. Stanford finished the weekend with a pair of 7-4 and 5-4 wins on Thursday and Saturday, along with a 1-4 loss on Friday.

Kenny Diekroeger, above, hit a blooper that brought the Cardinal a victory against UCLA, breaking the team out of a losing streak of five consecutive conference games. (IAN GARCIA-DOTY/The Stanford Daily)

“This win was huge,” said sophomore shortstop Kenny Diekroeger after Sunday’s game. “There’s no doubt about it. But honestly, we were in the same situation last year, so this team knows how to battle.”

Stanford improves to 19-13 (5-7 Pac-10) with the win over UCLA (21-14, 10-5), also ending a five-game Pac-10 losing streak in the Thursday opener by knocking around one of the best pitchers in college baseball, Gerrit Cole. Coming up with hits against the strong Bruin pitching staff would be a key challenge for the Cardinal.

“We’ve really struggled with the bat the last three weeks,” said Stanford head coach Mark Marquess. “But they have a great pitching staff. They have the best pitching staff in the conference.”

Stanford turned things around with nine hits off Cole in the opener, including home runs from senior catcher Zach Jones and junior left fielder Tyler Gaffney en route to a 7-4 win. Sophomore starter Mark Appel (3-4) gave up nine hits as well but stranded 12 UCLA batters and managed to hold the Bruins to just three runs in his seven innings of work.

Gaffney’s two-run shot in the seventh chased Cole from the 6-3 game, and sophomore third baseman Stephen Piscotty launched Mitchell Beacon’s first pitch in relief for a solo homer.

But while the long ball reigned supreme on Thursday, the punchout became the story on Friday. Twenty-nine batters — more than half of those retired on the night — went down via the strikeout. And with big-league scouts in the stands to watch a UCLA star pitcher for the second straight night, righthander Trevor Bauer made the most of the attention, tying a career best with 17 strikeouts in a complete-game win.

Bauer’s fastball blew by the Cardinal all night; Stanford hitters only mustered four hits, and freshman second baseman Lonnie Kauppila was the only batter that did not go down on strikes at some point.

Stanford’s only run came in the fourth inning, with a bases-loaded, swinging strike three on a wild pitch that advanced all runners. But backing up Bauer (8-1), the Bruins came back with runs in the next three innings, taking game two by a 4-1 tally.

The storyline looked all too similar for the Cardinal heading into the bottom of the ninth on Saturday. Behind pitching that had given up only three hits, UCLA was again up 4-1, allowing the only run on a passed ball in the seventh frame. Two quick outs seemed to confirm a series win for the Bruins, until freshman right fielder Brian Guymon — making just his seventh start of the season — finally got to reliever Nich Vander Tuig with a single up the middle. After a walk to sophomore pinch hitter Justin Ringo, sophomore center fielder Jake Stewart singled on a full count to bring home one run.

Jones came to the plate, hitting below .250 on the season, but finally starting to break out of a slump. With runners at the corners, the senior drove a ball just fair of the first-base line.

“I thought it would be [hard enough to score Stewart], but then it kind of hit the bullpen and bounced back into play,” Jones said. “I knew he was going to be sent, because he’s a fast guy.”

Stewart came around well ahead of the throw, knotting up the game at four apiece.

UCLA then turned to reliever Zach Weiss, who threw two consecutive four-pitch walks to load the bases and bring up Diekroeger. After another ball, Weiss was replaced by Brandon Lodge, who quickly took the count to 1-2 before Diekroeger battled back.

“Anytime a pitcher gets taken out in the middle of an at-bat like that, it kind of throws you out of your rhythm,” Diekroeger said. “I knew the wind was blowing in, so I knew I wasn’t going to hit a home run. But I was just trying to put the barrel on the ball.”

Diekroeger did just that with the count full, hitting a high Texas leaguer into right-center field. The blooper looked catchable, but both Bruin outfielders stayed back for too long and were unable to get to the ball after it had been knocked down by the wind. Jones came around to score, sealing the 5-4 comeback victory for Stanford.

“It turns us around in Pac-10 play,” Jones said. “With a loss, we would’ve been four games under .500. This was a huge game for us, and a huge game for them to lose.”

Though the Cardinal had Easter Sunday off because the series was moved up a day, there will be little time for rest in the coming week. Stanford hosts No. 15 California in a non-conference game Monday at 5:30 p.m. before heading to Saint Mary’s on Tuesday for a 3 p.m. start. By Friday, the Cardinal will be in Tempe for a three-game series against defending Pac-10 champion Arizona State, currently ranked ninth in the nation and coming off a weekend sweep of Cal.

About Joseph Beyda

Joseph Beyda is the editor in chief of The Stanford Daily. Previously he has worked as the executive editor, webmaster, football editor, a sports desk editor, the paper's summer managing editor and a beat reporter for football, baseball and women's soccer. He co-authored The Daily's recent football book, "Rags to Roses," and covered the soccer team's national title run for the New York Times. Joseph is a senior from Cupertino, Calif. majoring in Electrical Engineering. To contact him, please email jbeyda "at" stanford.edu.