By Jose Saldana
A strong bullpen performance and a go-ahead run batted in (RBI) single from junior shortstop Nico Hoerner propelled No. 2 Stanford baseball (21-3) to a 4-3 win over Gonzaga (13-13) on a sunny Monday afternoon in Sunken Diamond.
Sophomore relief pitchers Daniel Bakst and Zach Grech combined for six innings, one earned run, one hit and one strikeout. Freshman southpaw Jacob Palisch earned his second save of the season. Their performances helped overcome a rough outing by Stanford’s starter, freshman right-handed pitcher Austin Weiermiller, as he managed only two innings pitched and allowed three hits and two earned runs.
“The experts said [the bullpen] was our weakness this year,” Grech said. “I think we pitch with a chip on our shoulder.”
The Cardinal offense, although not very efficient, did enough to get the win. Freshman center fielder Tim Tawa hit a two-run home run in the fifth to tie the game, and Hoerner’s RBI in the seventh gave the Cardinal the lead for good.
“The job our freshman have done, in particular Tim Tawa, has been a huge boost to us this season,” Stanford Head Coach David Esquer said. “You love to get contributions from everywhere in the lineup, and Tim’s today was as big as they come.”
The offense had 10 hits and five walks, but left eight on base.
Senior second baseman Beau Branton added a couple more hits to add to his team-high batting average (.371).
“Beau has always been a great player,” Tawa said of his teammate. “He’s just seeing the ball really well and doing what he does best: hitting the ball low and hard.”
Back-to-back doubles from Gonzaga hitters off Weiermiller in the first inning gave the Bulldogs the first lead of the game at 1-0.
The Cardinal offense would equalize in the bottom of the second when sophomore left fielder Andrew Daschbach stole home after sophomore right fielder Kyle Stowers was caught between first and second base.
Weiermiller came out for the third, but he allowed runners to reach second and third base with no outs. Bakst replaced Weiermiller and allowed one inherited runner to score on a groundout as Bakst finished the inning.
Branton hit a single in the bottom of the third with one out. However, Branton’s tenure on the basepaths was short lived as Tawa would hit into a double play a few pitchers later.
Bakst had a quick 1-2-3 fourth inning by striking out the first batter and then inducing groundouts on the following two batters.
The Cardinal had more missed opportunities in the bottom of the fourth. Sophomore third baseman Maverick Handley advanced to second with one out after Hoerner’s groundout. However, strikeouts by Daschbach and sophomore designated hitter (DH) Will Matthiessen ended the Cardinal’s threat.
Bakst came back on for the fifth, and it looked at least for the first two batters like more of the same. He got the first two outs quickly, including his third strikeout, but Gonzaga’s Jake Vieth, who already had a double and a hit-by-pitch, sent a one-run home run over center field to the batter’s eye.
The solo shot increased the Bulldogs’ lead to 3-1, but it didn’t last long.
Tawa would hit a two-run home run over the Pac-12 logo on the left field wall to tie the game at 3-3 in the bottom of the fifth. The home run was Tawa’s fourth of the year, which ties him for first on the team with Daschbach.
With Bakst’s day done, submariner Grech came on in the sixth and struck out the side, which doubled his strikeout total on the season.
Grech’s seventh inning was more of the same as the Gonzaga hitters went 3-up and 3-down.
The Cardinal offense repaid Grech’s production by scoring a run in the bottom of the seventh on Hoerner’s single to left field. The run gave Stanford its first lead of the game at 4-3.
Tawa flashed his leather with a web gem in the top of the eighth. Gonzaga’s Branson Trube hit a high fly ball towards center field, which forced Tawa to run down and dive to track the ball down.
“I kind of got tired at the end and I just told myself to let [the Bulldogs] put the ball in play,” Grech said of the fly out. “Tawa did what we expected him to do.”
The out would be Grech’s first of the inning, and the sidearmer forced Vieth to groundout to get out of the eighth.
Palisch took over for Grech to start the ninth, and despite giving up a one-out double, he managed to get the save off a dribbler to the shortstop.
“We really had to stick with it today,” Coach Esquer said. “It’s always a treat playing against one of my old teammates [Gonzaga head coach Mark Machtolf] from Stanford in the opposing dugout, so we knew they were going to bring it for him today.”
The Cardinal will not travel far for their next game as they play Santa Clara on the road on April 3 at 6 p.m. PT. The game will be broadcast by WCCSports.com.
Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.