By Michael Woo
This past weekend, Stanford (9-8) faced one of its toughest tests of the early season with a four-game series against No. 12 Texas (10-6). Heading into a 12-day break with conference play looming on the other side, the series provided a good measuring stick for this young Cardinal team.
Stanford could not have asked for a better start to the series, taking the first two games in close contests behind strong overall pitching performances. Unfortunately, a lineup decimated by injuries and a depleted pitching staff caused the Cardinal to drop games three and four. The team may be disappointed with the conclusion to the series, but it has to be pleased with where it is at this early in the season.
“Not only are we winning games, but a lot of guys are building confidence. The deeper we are, the more successful we’ll be,” said third baseman Mikey Diekroeger.
Stanford once again received strong play from the freshman throughout the weekend, who went 6-for-12 with one home run and 6 RBIs and was ultimately named Stanford Athletics’ Cardinal Athlete of the Week for his contributions. He also extended his hitting streak to seven games.
Stanford took the series opener 5-3 Thursday night by way of the long ball, as both Diekroeger and designated hitter Austin Barr homered.
Diekroeger’s three-run homer in the third inning over the right field wall was the first of his career, and helped the Cardinal regain a 4-2 lead. Barr’s shot to left field in the following inning was the last run for the Stanford offense, but it was all the Cardinal needed.
Freshman starting pitcher Keith Weisenberg held Texas to three runs in four innings of work and handed the game over to the bullpen with the lead. Stanford used four relievers to get through the final five innings, only allowing one run to cross the plate. In total Texas stranded 14 baserunners, in large part due to closer Logan James. James picked up his third save of the season and secured the win in dramatic fashion, getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth.
Stanford picked up another win in game two of the series as a result of starting pitcher Chris Viall’s career-best outing. The sophomore went 6.2 innings, a career-long, and only allowed three runs, none of which were earned. Texas took advantage of two Stanford errors in the second inning with a three-run homer, but failed to protect their early lead.
On the home run, Viall said he “left an [outside fastball] too far in and a little up in the zone,” but he was able to settle down and finish a strong outing.
“As the game went on, I picked up a little steam and fell into a rhythm,” Viall said.
The Longhorns went scoreless over the final six innings, which helped the Cardinal climb back in the game, earning a 5-3 win.
Texas notched its first win of the series in game three, despite another strong performance from a Stanford starting pitcher. Stanford starter Brett Hanewich posted similar numbers to Viall, going 6.2 innings and allowing 3 earned runs, but did not receive enough support from the offense to pick up the win. The Cardinal left 12 runners on base and only scored one run, falling to the Longhorns 3-1. Diekroeger was one of the few bright spots of the offense, posting his second multi-hit game of the series.
On his recent success at the plate, Diekroeger said that he’s just been “sticking with his approach and trying to keep it simple,” which has helped him with consistency issues he struggled with earlier.
In game four, the Longhorns pulled away early and never looked back, capping the series off with a 12-4 win. Stanford’s short-handed pitching staff gave up 15 hits and nine walks to the Texas offense in the blowout loss.
The Cardinal now have a chance to deal with nagging injuries and catch up on some much-needed rest over the upcoming break. Stanford baseball resumes on March 20 with a three-game series against Arizona at Sunken Diamond.
Contact Michael Woo at mtwoo ‘at’ stanford.edu.