Thursday night’s regional opener had been billed as a high-caliber pitching duel between Stanford left-hander Kris Bubic and Sacramento State righty Justin Dillon, the WAC strikeout and WHIP leader and tournament MVP – and at least one of them delivered on those expectations.
Luckily for No. 1 seed Stanford (41-14), it was Bubic that had the game of his life while the Cardinal’s bats chipped away at Dillon before exploding against the Hornets’ bullpen to blow the game wide open. Stanford cruised to a 10-0 victory over No. 4 seed Sacramento State (32-28) in the opener of the NCAA Stanford Regional.
The win was the eighth straight for the red-hot Cardinal and their 22nd victory in their last 24 games, setting up a marquee showdown against No. 2 seed Cal State Fullerton in the no-loss bracket on Friday night. It also extended Stanford’s postseason winning streak at Sunken Diamond to eight games and improved Stanford’s postseason home record to 62-14.
“We’re very confident,” said outfielder Quinn Brodey. “We go out and every game, we expect to win every game. That’s what you go out to do, that’s what we prepare for. In our mind, we’re going on the field to put together nine good innings and to win every game.”
Bubic had his good stuff early – Sacramento State’s second and third hitters, Trent Goodrich and Vinny Esposito, swung through three straight changeups in the first inning.
Turns out, it was a sign of things to come.
Bubic struck out five of his first eight hitters as he tied his career-high with 11 punchouts against no walks in a career-high 8.0 innings of work. He walked no Hornets and scattered five hits, finishing his night with a flourish when he induced a flyout from Hornets center fielder Ian Dawkins to escape a first-and-third, two-out eighth-inning jam.
“I felt good early, and credit to [freshman catcher Maverick Handley] for calling a great game and Coach [Rusty] Filter calling a great game from the dugout all night,” Bubic said. “Trying to pound the zone early and keep the ball down were the main goals of the night.”
His changeup in particular had tremendous arm-side run, and his ability to command that secondary pitch in any count really kept the Hornets hitters off-balance throughout the early stages of the game.
“Coach Filter definitely knows [the changeup is] my bread and butter, and it’s been like that all season,” Bubic said. “We really used it effectively calling it early in the count, late in the count, it doesn’t really matter for me… Having confidence, that’s the main thing.”
As it turns out, Stanford didn’t even need Bubic’s dominance, as Cardinal hitters launched a season-high four homers and scored runs in all but one inning, led by a 4-for-4, two-homer performance by Quinn Brodey and a two-RBI night from Jack Klein.
Meanwhile, Dillon, who had allowed two earned runs in his last 18 innings, faltered out of the gate, allowing a two-out RBI double to freshman Daniel Bakst to give Stanford an early 1-0 lead.
Dillon has had issues all season with keeping the ball in the yard, having allowed 12 homers in 2017, and that weakness reared its head again on Thursday night. In the second inning, a Dillon 1-2 slider caught too much of the plate and Klein launched it over the left-center field fence.
Brodey followed that up an inning later by smacking a first-pitch fastball off the right-field scoreboard, his team-leading ninth long ball of the season. At that point, it was 3-0 Stanford, and the game was all but over – Sacramento State hadn’t won a game all season in which Dillon had allowed three or more earned runs, and Stanford was 25-1 this season when leading after three innings.
“There’s days when [the ball] looks big, and there’s days when it looks pretty small,” Brodey said. “You’ve got to take advantage of the days when it looks big.”
A Klein sacrifice fly in the fourth gave Stanford another run before sloppy defense led to two more runs for Stanford in the sixth and seventh, with a runner scoring all the way from second on wild pitches in both instances.
The Cardinal took advantage and blew the game open with three more runs on a Matt Winaker two-run homer and Brodey’s second homer of the evening, his team-leading 10th. Stanford plated another run in the eighth on a sacrifice fly by Jesse Kuet, who also extended his hitting streak to a career-high 11 games.
“We’ve all been working really hard, and the offense, top-to-bottom, has been very good over the last few weeks and the second half of the season,” Brodey said. “One through nine, we’ve had people picking it up and contributing, and that’s what’s made us so dangerous.”
Left-hander Andrew Summerville will take the mound for the Cardinal in Friday’s 6 p.m. affair against No. 2 Cal State Fullerton and right-hander Colton Eastman. The Titans are coming off an equally impressive 13-2 win over BYU. Sacramento State and BYU will both face elimination when they meet at 1 p.m. tomorrow. Both games will be carried on ESPN3 broadcasts.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.