By Quinn Barry
Bring out the brooms! In a thrilling 6-5 victory over No. 17 Cal State Fullerton (0-3) at Sunken Diamond, No. 13 Stanford baseball (3-0) jumped out to a perfect record in its first series of the season. The last time the Cardinal swept Fullerton was in 2008, a year in which they qualified for the College World Series in Omaha.
Sunday afternoon’s victory was particularly sweet for newly-minted head coach David Esquer. It was eight months ago when the Fullerton Titans eliminated the Cardinal from postseason contention.
“That stung last year to lose a regional at home,” Coach Esquer communicated in a post-game interview. “[The team] has kept that at the top front of their memory.”
Junior right fielder Brandon Wulff, who went 3-3 with a run scored, was more blunt. “I just wanted to come back and kick the crap out of these guys. It’s just exciting to come out and put a whooping on them.”
Freshman left-handed pitcher Austin Weiermiller (1-0) stole the show on the mound for the Cardinal in his first NCAA appearance. Taking the call in the second inning after rough outing by sophomore lefty Erik Miller, Weiermiler pitched four frames of no-run ball, using his slider to induce weak contact.
One particularly important sequence in the fourth inning, Stanford ahead 5-3, illustrates the freshman’s grit. With two Titans on second and third and two outs, Weiermiller dialed up a high fastball to get designated hitter Tyler Lasch swinging.
“Obviously, [I was] a little bit nervous,” the lefty out of Georgia acknowledged. “My teammates did a great job calming me down. No situation is too big, that’s something that we preach.”
“Not a bad way to start your career, with an interview,” remarked onlooking junior Tristan Beck, who himself shut down the Titans in a 5-1 victory Friday.
In the first inning, it looked like Fullerton would be able to salvage the final contest of this three-game set. Runners sat on second and third with one out following a leadoff walk, strikeout and base-hit to left by three-hole hitting junior Ruben Cardenas.
With two strikes, Titans sophomore catcher Dan Cope squibbed a ball in between first and second. Second baseman Jesse Kuet caught it and wisely decided to hold the ball in his glove. But he put his head down after the play. Then, leadoff hitter Hank LoForte broke for home from third, and a surprised Kuet sailed an off-target throw behind the backstop.
Both runners advanced and Fullerton scored another on a deep RBI groundout to shortstop.
Stanford, though, responded immediately with some offense of their own. In between two sacrifice flies by sophomore designated hitter Daniel Bakst and sophomore left fielder Kyle Stowers, both of whom would pitch later in the game, sophomore Andrew Daschbach drove a booming triple to right center field to bring in a run.
45 minutes and one inning through, Card 4, Titans 2.
The probability of a Cardinal win steadied for the next six innings. Fullerton added a run through small ball (walk, wild pitch, bunt, groundout). Kuet avenged his throwing error with a sacrifice fly to left in the fourth while star junior shortstop Nick Hoerner, who had a fantastic game offensively and defensively, poked a 2-1 breaking pitch into left for an RBI double.
Coach Esquer’s decision to replace Weiermiller with Bakst in the sixth paid off, as the sophomore put up a scoreless frame despite allowing two baserunners. The issue came with leaving the New Yorker, who had just pitched against Fullerton on Saturday, in for the seventh, as well.
Facing the top of the Titan’s lineup, Bakst was able to coax a groundout from second baseman LoForte. Quickly, though, Fullerton’s bats broke through.
Shortstop Sahid Valenzuela looped a double just out of the reach of junior center fielder Alec Wilson in left-center. Then, on a 3-2 count, Cardenas hammered a hanging curveball over the left-field fence for his second hit of the night. Just like that, Stanford found itself ahead by just one.
With three games in as many days and a fourth looming Monday, Coach Esquer stated he had few options but try to get just a little more out of his bullpen.
“We were on fumes a little bit. We had to cover more innings than we thought [we would have to] today. We kept guys in there longer than we would have liked. We would have liked to get Daniel Bakst out there after that one inning, pat him on the rear end, say great job, but we had to try to extend him a little bit more.”
Shut-down performances from freshmen relief pitchers Carson Rudd and Jacob Palisch held Fullerton at bay for the following two innings. But the Titans would threaten one final time in the ninth.
Stowers, 1-3 with an RBI on the afternoon from the batter’s box, came into the game for his first NCAA appearance as a pitcher. He was rusty at first, throwing six straight balls, leaving LoForte on first and a 2-0 count to Valenzuela. Valenzuela promptly bunted the runner to second, then Stowers threw in on the hands of the dangerous Cardenas, forcing a squib back to himself.
With the tying run ninety feet away, Stowers, sitting around 88 for most of the inning, reached back for 90 to strikeout Cope on a high fastball.
The Cardinal play a familiar foe when Rice (2-1) comes to the Farm for a four-game series starting on Thursday at 6:05 p.m. All four games will be broadcast by Stanford Live Stream.
Contact Quinn Barry at qmbarry ‘at’ stanford.edu.