Although a rainout on Friday night delayed the start of Stanford baseball’s 2016 campaign by a day, the Cardinal didn’t let the change of schedule throw them off. Stanford (2-1) swept its season-opening doubleheader on Saturday, 2-0, 2-1, before falling in Sunday’s series finale 4-3 to No. 21 Cal State Fullerton (1-2) to get its season started on a high note.
A stellar collegiate debut from freshman right-hander Tristan Beck on Saturday afternoon and an outstanding start to follow that up from junior lefty Chris Castellanos on Saturday evening set the tone for the weekend, which was marked by three high-level pitchers’ duels.
Although sophomore Andrew Summerville had one bad inning in Sunday’s finale, he was also dominant for stretches against a talented Cal State Fullerton lineup that combined for only 18 hits through the three games over the weekend.
“We did a really good job,” said head coach Mark Marquess. “We didn’t walk people and threw a lot of strikes, and I couldn’t be more pleased. It was a great pitching effort [Saturday] and [Sunday]. They hit Summerville, but that’s better than walking them. We played good defense, and I’m very pleased with the pitching.”
Especially promising was the fact that the pitching staff, which suffered from chronic control issues last season, only combined for two walks over the weekend — both in the first game of the series.
“Last year, we got too carried away with trying to be too cute and pretty around the edges and everything,” said starting catcher Bryce Carter. “Our mentality now is just pound the zone, keep it low and let your defense work. The defense that we have is proven this weekend. That’s a good mentality to have.”
The bullpen — a shaky point of last season — also made a big statement as well, with Tyler Thorne, Colton Hock and Chris Viall combining for 8.2 innings of shutout relief in which they only allowed four hits and struck out a combined 10 hitters.
Marquess was also particularly proud of the fact that Stanford’s defense did not commit an error all weekend, and Stanford’s entire infield made some tremendous defensive plays over the course of the three games, highlighted by a pair of diving plays at shortstop by junior Tommy Edman.
“When you play these types of teams, you can’t make many mistakes, or else they’re going to take advantage of them, because they don’t normally make mistakes,” Marquess said.
When he took the mound on Saturday, Beck became just the third freshman to start Opening Day for Stanford since 1988, joining Mike Mussina and Cal Quantrill for the honor.
Although he gave up a leadoff single to Josh Vargas to begin the game, Beck settled down and pitched like a veteran, allowing just one more hit through his 6.1 innings of work and retiring 11 consecutive hitters at one point before being pulled after his only walk of the afternoon with one out in the seventh to a rousing standing ovation from the Stanford faithful.
“I just got into a groove and started remembering I had all eight guys behind me,” Beck said. “The seniors, upperclassmen really took me aside and said, ‘Hey, there are eight of us behind you helping you out, do it on the first couple of pitches if you can, let the defense help you, keep your pitch count down.’
“So it clicked then.”
Although Beck admitted after the game that he had jitters in that first inning and got off to a shaky start, Carter, who caught him, remarked that the freshman showed poise and confidence on the mound that greatly impressed him as the game progressed.
“When things got bad, when he got a little wild, he just took a step back and took a deep breath, and that’s a very mature thing of him to do,” Carter said. “I was there, but I really didn’t have to hold his hand through it. He did it himself, and that’s a really good thing on his part.”
Although Stanford was only able to pound out two runs against an equally impressive outing from Fullerton ace Blake Quinn, that’s all the Cardinal needed with Beck dealing. A Mikey Diekroeger home run in the fourth was followed up by a RBI single from Quinn Brodey in the seventh to set the final margin.
The Cardinal followed up their impressive start in the first game of the doubleheader with another stellar performance in the nightcap, with Castellanos allowing just one run on five hits in 6.0 innings of work, supported by an RBI groundout from Jack Klein and an RBI single from Diekroeger.
With just a one-run cushion to work with, Hock shut the door in a three-inning save, striking out four while not allowing a single baserunner in a perfect outing.
With the Cardinal’s first season-opening series victory since 2012 already in hand, Stanford turned to Summerville in Sunday’s finale to get the job done. Although the lefty allowed the Titans to plate three runs on five consecutive hits in a shaky second inning, he buckled down and retired 10 consecutive batters at one point in his six innings of work.
“Unfortunately I left a few balls up that inning — credit to Cal State Fullerton, they’re a really good team,” Summerville said. “But as pitchers, our main goal is to be able to come back from those innings, shut them down and get back into that groove.”
Meanwhile, Fullerton freshman starter Colton Eastman was almost unhittable for most of his collegiate debut, retiring the first 16 Stanford hitters he faced before finally blinking in the bottom of the sixth, when he allowed three straight hits to Beau Branton, Alex Dunlap and Edman that plated two runs.
Although an error by Fullerton third baseman Jerrod Bravo on a Diekroeger grounder closed the margin to 4-3, Stanford couldn’t finish off a potential rally in the eighth and ultimately fell in the finale despite three stellar innings of relief from Viall.
Diekroeger led the way for Stanford from the plate with two RBIs over the weekend, while senior right fielder Jonny Locher added a pair of doubles and freshman second baseman Nico Hoerner also added three hits and some slick defensive plays.
Stanford will next turn to junior Brett Hanewich on the mound as it travels to Davis to take on the UC Davis Aggies for one game today at 2 p.m. before it prepares itself for a four-game series in Austin against the Texas Longhorns.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.