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Baseball faces elimination after bats fall quiet in 4-1 loss to Cal State Fullerton

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Friday night saw a role reversal at Sunken Diamond, with host Stanford playing as the visiting team on its home field thanks to the NCAA’s postseason rules. The Cardinal found themselves out of sorts. Meanwhile, Cal State Fullerton made itself right at home.

The Titans silenced both the Stanford crowd and the Stanford bats, and Fullerton left-hander John Gavin filled the void with a guttural roar as he struck out the side to complete seven dazzling innings as No. 2 seed Cal State Fullerton (36-21) battled out a 4-1 victory over No. 1 seed Stanford (41-15) at Sunken Diamond on Friday night.

“We were very fortunate, I thought, to be as close as we were,” said Stanford head coach Mark Marquess. “It was really about him. We just couldn’t do much with his stuff. He was very tough.”

The loss drops Stanford to the losers’ bracket of the double-elimination regional, meaning the Cardinal will need to win three straight games to avoid elimination, starting with an elimination game against BYU at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The defeat snapped an eight-game winning streak for the Cardinal, which dropped just their third game out of their last 25.

It was Stanford’s first loss at Sunken Diamond since April 15.

Despite Gavin’s loaded stat line, he actually labored a bit out of the gate ­— as did Stanford starter Andrew Summerville — and Stanford did have its chances to make some noise early on in a sluggish affair that took nearly two hours to reach its halfway point.

Gavin sat at 65 pitches through four innings despite allowing only one hit thanks to several Stanford hitters working deep into counts, with six out of 14 Cardinal batters working at-bats of six or more pitches through the first four innings.

Stanford had runners on the corners with two outs in the third inning following a Jack Klein single, a balk and a Matt Winaker walk, but Gavin was able to pick up a strikeout of Nico Hoerner to work out of the jam.

And in the fifth, Stanford was able to tie the game at 1-1 after junior Jesse Kuet extended his hitting streak to 12 games with a two-out RBI single and threatened for more after Matt Winaker doubled down the left-field line to put runners on second and third, but Gavin again punched out Hoerner to end the threat.

“He mixed speeds really well — that was his game,” Klein said. “We knew that going in, though. That’s nothing that should surprise us, but he didn’t make many mistakes and he kept the ball down. We just couldn’t come up with the big hit when we had our opportunities earlier in the game.

“We just didn’t do our job as an offense.”

Gavin settled down and struck out four of the last seven hitters he faced, finishing with 10 strikeouts against two walks and three hits allowed in seven dominant innings of work.

Meanwhile, Summerville worked very deliberately as he pitched through heavy traffic throughout his outing, dealing with runners in scoring position in every frame. Despite throwing 78 pitches and facing 15 batters through three innings, he only allowed one run on four hits to that point thanks to a tremendous ability to work out of jams.

With a run already in on a one-out RBI single by Hunter Cullen in the second inning, Fullerton had runners on second and third with one out, threatening for more, but Summerville picked up a huge strikeout when left fielder Chris Prescott watched a fastball go by on a full count for strike three, and induced a groundout to limit the damage.

The very next inning, Summerville once again worked himself into an identical second-and-third, one-out jam, but again, he worked out of it – this time with back-to-back strikeouts of Hank LoForte and Taylor Bryant to escape the frame unscathed.

“Summerville got out of second and third twice,” Marquess said. “He got strikeouts. That kept us in the game. If they get a hit in either one of those innings, it’s a four- or five-run gap, and it’s tough, the way Gavin was pitching.

“We were fortunate that they could have broken it open a lot earlier, and Summerville, I thought he came up in big spots and struck a couple of guys out.”

But Fullerton finally got the better of Summerville and reliever Tyler Thorne in a breakthrough fifth inning, just after Stanford tied the game up. Second baseman Sahid Valenzuela tripled to the left-center field gap as part of a 3-for-4 day, just out of the reach of a diving Klein, and came home on a Dillon Persinger RBI single.

A throwing error charged to Hoerner on what could have been an inning-ending grounder brought home another Fullerton run, and the Titans tacked on another insurance run in the sixth on an RBI single by Valenzuela.

Stanford got its leadoff hitter on in each of the last two innings, but went down quietly against the Fullerton bullpen.

The Cardinal are now in win-or-go-home (or in this case, stay home) mode, needing a victory over BYU in the day game on Saturday and a win over Fullerton in the nightcap to force a winner-take-all game against Fullerton on Sunday.

But Stanford has been here before — the Cardinal faced this exact situation in 2014, their last Regional appearance, and the seniors on this team, who were freshmen then, haven’t let their teammates forget that legendary run.

And they’re certainly not about to be daunted by this task.

“We’ve got to play one pitch at a time,” Klein said. “BYU’s going to be good, but we need to come tomorrow and I think we’re all confident that we can put a run together. That’s why we do it. That’s why you practice so much, that’s why we do everything we do — to win ballgames.

“We’ve just got to win three in a row.”

 

Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Do-Hyoung Park '16, M.S. '17 is the Minnesota Twins beat reporter at MLB.com, having somehow ensured that his endless hours sunk into The Daily became a shockingly viable career. He was previously the Chief Operating Officer and Business Manager at The Stanford Daily for FY17-18. He also covered Stanford football and baseball for five seasons as a student and served two terms as sports editor and four terms on the copy desk. He was also a color commentator for KZSU 90.1 FM's football broadcast team for the 2015-16 Rose Bowl season.