By Jose Saldana
No. 12 Stanford baseball (8-0) used strong pitching and timely offense to sweep Rice (3-5) in the four-games series over the weekend in Sunken Diamond.
With the win, the Cardinal tie their best start to a season since 1998, when Stanford started 9-0.
The starting rotation had solid performances in every game of the series, but junior southpaw Kris Bubic’s performance really stood out. He had eight strikeouts in six innings with one earned run in the Game 3 win.
However, the bullpen was even better than the starters at times. Sophomore Jack Little and freshman Jacob Palisch were just electric, combining for 14 strikeouts and only three hits in 7.1 innings.
“[Little] has been that stabilizing force at the backend of the bullpen,” Stanford head coach David Esquer said. “Throwing strikes, fields his position … he will have to be beat by achievement because he is not going to beat himself.”
“[Palisch’s] poise is beyond his years,” Coach Esquer said of the freshman. “He didn’t pitch at all his senior season in high school and he got himself healthy. He’s a different pitcher now than he was even in the fall.”
The offense featured opportunistic base running and plenty of power. Games 1-3 each featured a home run by the Cardinal, none more impressive than the grand slam by junior right fielder Brandon Wulff.
Wulff was the best offensive player in the series, batting 6-13, knocking in six RBI, scoring 4 times and hitting his first home run of the season.
Game 1 began with sophomore left-handed pitcher Erik Miller on the mound in the 7-2. In his previous start, Miller struggled to throw strikes as he only pitched one inning and allowed three runs. He was the complete opposite on Thursday. Miller pounded the zone, racking up nine strikeouts and giving up only one run in four innings.
The relief pitching took over from there. More notably, the freshman took over from there. Coach Esquer replaced Miller with another left-hander in Austin Weiermiller. Weiermiller had pitched well in his first appearance of the season by going four innings after relieving Miller versus Cal State Fullerton.
He wasn’t as good on Thursday but he gave Stanford two innings and only allowing one run.
Keeping with the southpaw theme, Palisch started the 6th and went the distance. He struck out two in three innings and he earned the first save of his career.
Although the pitching was strong, the offense definitely added plenty of support. Tied at 1-1 and with the bases loaded, Wulff made his bat howl to send the ball into the night sky and over the left field wall for a grand slam. The four-run 3rd inning would have been more than enough offense, but the Cardinal added runs in the 5th and 7th.
Junior right-handed pitcher Tristan Beck, the reigning Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week, got the fire started in Game 2 in a frigid Sunken Diamond. He struck out two batters in an 1-2-3 1st inning. The top of the 2nd inning was more of the same for Beck. He collected another strikeout and induced weak contact to get the other two outs.
Beck got into trouble in the top of the 3rd when junior shortstop Nico Hoerner failed to tag the base runner after a strikeout. The runner would score on sacrifice fly to bring Stanford up 2-1. Beck would add his fifth strikeout to get out of the inning.
The defense failed Beck once again in the top of the 4th. With a runner at first, Beck induced a grounder to Hoerner who fired the ball to sophomore first baseman Andrew Daschbach. Daschbach couldn’t make the catch to get the out. However, on the next batter, Hoerner made a highlight-reel play throw to first to get the final out.
Top of the 5th signaled more trouble for Beck. After striking out the first batter, Beck gave up a walk, a single and a walk to load the bases with one out. A fielder’s choice scored the runner from third base to tie the game at 2-2. He was able to limit the damage to that one run by earning his seventh punchout.
Sophomore DH Daniel Bakst came in to replace Beck at the start of the 6th. He allowed one hit but was able to get three outs to keep a clean inning.
Sophomores Zach Grech and Little took over in relief and didn’t give up any runs in three innings to end the game.
The offense wasn’t as spectacular. After scoring two runs in the 2nd, the batters couldn’t muster anything. Tied at 2-2 in the 7th, Daschbach sliced the first home run of his career through the cold air to break the impasse.
“It felt great,” Daschbach said of his home run. “A lot of hard work has gone into that moment, so I was just happy I can help the team win.”
The home run by Daschbach seemed to get the Cardinal offense going as the batters preyed on Rice’s relief pitching for another two runs in the 8th.
With runners at third and second base with no outs, Wulff singled to right field to score Handley. Freshman first baseman Nick Brueser got his first at-bat of his career in the 8th. After a pitch nearly missed his body, Brueser was hit by a pitch to earn his way to first base.
Freshman Tim Tawa came up clutch by hitting a sacrifice fly to score Bakst and give Stanford a 6-2 win.
With a series victory on the line in Game 3, the Cardinal gave junior lefty pitcher Kris Bubic the start, and he got the 7-4 win. After some bad luck struck him in the first inning, Bubic really got in a rhythm. He pounded the zone to eight strikeouts in six innings of one-run ball.
Bubic handed the ball to Weiermiller at the top of the 7th and after one inning, Weiermiller was playing mistake-free baseball. However, coming out for the 8th, he gave up one run and left the game with runners at the corners. Grech took over and got one out but allowed one of the inherited runners to score. He was promptly replaced by Little who got two outs to end the top of the 8th.
Little was impressive, striking out four batters in only 1.2 innings for his fourth save of the game.
Eerily similar to the previous game, the Cardinal offense was silent, settling for early swings and popups until a homer arrived. This time Hoerner delivered the round-the-bases specials for his first time this season on a two-run shot to give the Cardinal a 2-1 lead in the bottom of 6th.
The home run seemed to galvanize the rest of the lineup as Stanford five runs in that inning and then added insurance runs in the 7th and 8th.
An early 11 a.m. first pitch was in store for Game 4 of the series. Coach Esquer relied on freshman pitcher Brendan Beck to start off strong.
Although Stanford won 2-0, the Cardinal were on thin ice the entire game. Beck eased through three innings before struggling in the 4th. He allowed the bases to be loaded with no outs in a scoreless game.
Rice was certain to score but then it ran into Palisch. He, like Bubic on Saturday, pounded the strike zone and fooled the Owls batters. He had seven strikeouts and only one hit allowed in 3.2 innings.
Bakst came onto the mound to take over with two outs in the 7th and Palisch was given a much-deserved ovation. However, Bakst ran into trouble immediately. He couldn’t get a single out as there were runners at the corners. Senior John Henry Styles came in to relieve Bakst, and after a hitting a batter, he induced a groundout to finally get out of the inning.
With the bullpen almost used up, the Cardinal turned to the submariner Grech to get the two-inning save. He only needed four pitches in the 8th to get three outs and then finished off the sweep by shutting the door in the 9th.
The Cardinal will have a few days to enjoy their sweep before Michigan (2-4) comes to Sunken Diamond for a four-game series starting on Friday at 6:05 p.m., with a double-header on Saturday. Games 1-3 will be broadcast by Stanford Live Stream, and Game 4 will be broadcast by the Pac-12 Networks.
Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.