By Jose Saldana
Through the first two games of the series, No. 2 Stanford baseball (39-8, 18-6 Pac-12) was utterly dominated by No. 3 Oregon State (38-8-1, 16-7-1) as the Cardinal were outscored 16-2 in front of an intimidating venue in Corvallis.
After the second game, Stanford head coach David Esquer had to focus his young team before the final game of the series.
“We have to learn from this,” Esquer said. “We’re asking a lot of our younger players to take on a lot of responsibility at the moment, and we certainly need to come back tomorrow and play much better than we have over last couple days.”
And for four innings, down 1-6, in the Sunday matinee, the Cardinal still felt gasping for any answers to the Beavers. Then, slowly, and with the resilience it has shown all season, Stanford chipped away at the lead until it was gone in the top of the 9th, sending the once-thought defeat to extra innings.
Then, sophomore and reigning Perfect Game National Player of the Week Will Matthiessen capped off the comeback with a missile down the left field line to score the go-ahead runs to salvage a silver lining to this series.
“I said yesterday that today would be a real test of character for this team and they came through,” Esquer said. “It took us quite a while to really get going in this series, but I watched this team grow up right before my eyes today.”
This was only the Cardinal’s second series loss of the year, the first to UCLA, but the victory in the final game assured that Stanford would hold an 1.5-game lead on the Beavers for the Pac-12.
The Oregon State offense was just as advertised averaging 7.3 runs a game in the series against one of the best pitching staffs in the country.
The Stanford starters struggled immensely against the Beavers bats, giving up 15 earned runs in 14.1 innings pitched.
Junior Tristan Beck put in a gutsy performance, going 7.0 innings after an early blitz by the Beavers. The Beavers bit him early for four runs in the first two innings, but Beck hunkered down to give the Cardinal a chance, but Oregon State was just too much.
Fellow junior Kris Bubic started the Saturday game and unlike Beck, he got through the first couple of innings smoothly before running into trouble. Bubic could only make it 4.1 innings before being relieved as he gave up a home run to Beavers outfielder Trevor Larnach.
Then, in the Sunday game, freshman Brendan Beck got the nod over Erik Miller for the start. Beck couldn’t honor his coach’s confidence in him as he gave up six runs in 3.0 innings.
The bullpen found more success against the Beavers. Through 11.2 innings, four out of the total five runs give up by the relievers came from freshman Carson Rudd in the 8th of the second game when the game was out of hand.
Sophomore closer Jack Little got the victory in the final game as he pitched 3.1 innings and shutout the Beavers in his appearance, including getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the 8th.
One of the real surprises of the series was how much the offense struggle.
Oregon State pitcher Luke Heimlich who was Beck’s foil on Friday, dropped the hammer on the Stanford bats for 14 strikeouts.
Matthiessen was the only batter to get anything good off Heimlich as he hit a two-run home run for the only scores for the Cardinal.
The Cardinal offense struggled even mightier in the second game. It was shut out for the second time this season.
The offense finally reappeared in the final game, scoring nine runs.
Senior second baseman Beau Branton continued his imitation of former Cardinal great Jed Lowrie with a five-hit game and three runs scored on Sunday.
Junior shortstop Nico Hoerner and sophomore Andrew Daschbach, the three- and four-hitters, combined for 5-10, four runs scored and three RBI.
Oregon-natives Matthiessen and freshman Tim Tawa made their contributions. Matthiessen had the home run on Friday and the game-winning double on Sunday. Tawa went hitless in the first game, but had a hit in each of the last two games.
The Cardinal will come home for a Tuesday matchup with BYU, before playing their final home series of the season against Washington State starting on Friday.
This wasn’t the result that the Cardinal wanted, but they rectified something with the victory.
“I’ve been coaching baseball for a lot of years and I don’t think I have had a better win than today,” Esquer said. “I’m proud of our guys, and today meant so much for them and their progress.”
Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.