Although a bullpen collapse on Friday prevented Stanford baseball from being able to pick up a series sweep over the injury-plagued UCLA Bruins over the weekend, strong hitting and dominant pitching finally came together for the Cardinal (17-9, 6-3 Pac-12) as they picked up their fourth straight series win by taking two of three from the Bruins (13-16, 5-7).
Stanford picked up a 4-1 win in Thursday’s opener behind seven strong innings from junior lefty Chris Castellanos before dropping Friday’s game 6-5 after reliever Colton Hock allowed 3 runs, including the walk-off winner, in the bottom of the ninth. In Saturday’s rubber game, the Cardinal got 5 strong innings from sophomore Andrew Summerville and pounded out 14 hits to down the Bruins, 8-2.
After the games over the weekend, Stanford now sits alone in second place in the Pac-12, just one game behind conference leader No. 11 Cal, who dropped two of three at Oregon. Stanford has now won four straight series for the first time since 2014, and its first three conference series of the season for the first time since 2008, when it finished third at the College World Series.
Junior catcher Alex Dunlap stayed red-hot, going 5-for-10 at the plate during the series, including a 2-run home run in the opener and a four-hit performance in the finale. Sophomores Mikey Diekroeger and Matt Winaker also hit safely in all three games. Winaker has now reached base in 13 straight and Diekroeger in 11 straight. Junior Tommy Edman and freshman Nico Hoerner also contributed a three-hit game apiece to maintain Stanford’s fantastic table-setting ability at the top of the order.
By pounding out 27 hits over the weekend, Stanford raised its team batting average to .251, moving up to ninth place in the Pac-12. Meanwhile, strong pitching performances also maintained Stanford’s staff ERA at a sparkling 2.53, still best in the Pac-12 by a wide margin (Cal is in second with 2.94). Stanford’s three primary pitchers over the weekend — Castellanos, Tristan Beck and Summerville — combined for 18 innings and allowed just 5 runs.
In Thursday’s opener, Dunlap’s two-run tater in the second pushed Stanford out to a 2-0 lead, and thanks to a strong bounce-back outing from Castellanos, who was tagged for 6 runs in 3 innings his last time out, the Cardinal never lost that lead. A Jonny Locher RBI single in the fourth pushed the lead to 3-0 before a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fourth finally plated UCLA’s first run. An Edman sacrifice fly in the seventh brought home Dunlap with the final run of the game for the 4-1 final margin.
In his 7 innings of work, Castellanos struck out three batters and didn’t walk anyone, scattering four singles and a double while still pounding the zone — 60 of his 86 pitches were strikes. Thorne and Hock closed out the game with two hitless innings to give Stanford the opener.
The second game looked to be very similar to the first, with Stanford jumping out to another 2-0 lead in the third thanks to an RBI single by Hoerner and an RBI double from Diekroeger in support of strong pitching from Beck, the Corona native making his homecoming in front of a large contingent of fans.
Although Stanford gave Beck another run of support in the sixth, the freshman struggled in the bottom of the frame, allowing the first five Bruins of the inning to reach base to plate two before a pair of strikeouts ended the threat with the game tied at 3-3.
The Cardinal looked to pull ahead for good in the seventh with an RBI hit from Hoerner and another run scoring on an error by UCLA pitcher Jake Bird, but a Hoerner error to start the ninth opened the floodgates for the Bruins, who pounded a 2-run double to tie the game and walked off on a single by Kort Peterson.
There was no such drama in the series finale after starter Brett Hanewich exited after just 2 innings due to wildness (3 walks), giving way to Summerville and Thorne, who combined for 7 innings of one-run ball to hold the Bruins at bay while the offense got to work.
RBI singles by Edman and Winaker got things started in the fifth before Edman drove in two more in the next frame with another RBI single as part of a season-high 3-RBI game. The Cardinal tacked on four more for good measure in the ninth with RBI hits from Winaker, Quinn Brodey and Beau Branton and a run-scoring groundout from Diekroeger in a 5-hit inning that put the game out of reach.
Stanford played the entire series without normal third-base coach Brock Ungricht, who became a father over the weekend and took the three games off to spend time with his newborn daughter. First-base coach Jon Karcich slid over to third in his place and student-coach Daniel Starwalt manned first instead.
Stanford will look to stay hot in its next game, a 5:30 date with San Jose State on Tuesday at Sunken Diamond. John Hochstatter should get the start for the Cardinal with Kris Bubic likely the first out of the bullpen.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.