By Jose Saldana
It was fitting that the uniforms between the two teams on the diamond were essentially indiscernible (both squads wore red tops) as it appeared only one team was out on the field, but a ninth inning meltdown did in fact reveal that there were two teams out there.
No. 3 Stanford baseball (42-8-0, 20-6-0 Pac-12) almost let a nine-run lead slip away in the ninth in the 9-6 victory over Washington State (15-30-1, 7-18-1) on Saturday afternoon in Sunken Diamond.
The Cardinal take the series victory a week after losing their second series loss to Oregon State, and they maintain their 1.5-game lead over the Beavers in the conference.
Stanford led 9-0 before the Cougars pounced on the less-used arms in the bullpen.
“Sometimes you try to get some guys in there that haven’t been there,” Stanford head coach David Esquer said of his relievers in the ninth. “It doesn’t always work out.”
Sophomore closer Jack Little had to come in after three pitchers couldn’t deliver the final out, but the silver lining was that Little is now two saves away from Colton Hock’s ‘17 Stanford season saves record of 16.
The similar uniforms weren’t an issue for junior starter Kris Bubic, who had nine strikeouts in 5.2 innings, lowered his ERA to 2.55 and shut out the Cougars for the second year in a row.
“Early on I was feeling pretty good, and then later in the outing, I got a little fatigued,” Bubic said of his performance. “My stuff wasn’t as crisp, but I found a way to battle through and the defense made good plays behind me.”
Bubic wasn’t economical with his pitches, needing 111 total pitches, but he kept his walks down despite being down early in counts.
The offense took advantage of the shoddy pitching by Washington State. Senior second baseman Beau Branton was the table setter for Stanford at the leadoff spot, hitting 2-4 with three runs and one walk. He went 4-4 yesterday and extended into this game a nine-straight on base appearance.
Putting up a career-high four hits, junior shortstop Nico Hoerner had his 20th multi-hit game of the season, which leads the team. Hoerner added two RBI and two runs to his ledger in five at-bats.
Sophomore first baseman Andrew Daschbach, who was probably inspired by the fireworks show from last night’s game, blasted his 15th home run in the fourth and went 3-4 with four RBI.
“I was just trying to get a pitch up and the [pitcher] made a mistake,” Daschbach said of his home run. “I was happy to put a good swing on it.”
The action began in the bottom of the first inning when Branton nailed a double on the first pitch he saw. After advancing to third on sac bunt, Branton would score on Hoerner’s RBI single to give the Cardinal a 1-0 lead.
An inning later, the Stanford offense would drive even more runs, and again, Branton would be behind the wheel, hitting an RBI-double to score junior catcher Christian Molfetta and then scoring on another Hoerner hit — this one a double to shallow right field.
Sophomore first baseman Andrew Daschbach would cap off the Cardinal scoring in the second inning with an RBI single straight up the grass between the middle infielders. Hoerner scored from second on the hit to give Stanford a 2-0 lead.
After a fruitless third inning, the fourth bore something ripe when, guess who, Branton drew a five-pitch walk for his third straight appearance on base. Freshman third baseman Tim Tawa singled through the left side and Hoerner flied out to give runners on the corners with one out for Daschbach. With a 3-1 count, he sent a three-run home run over the left field wall for a 7-0 lead.
Sophomore left fielder Kyle Stowers continued the scoring for the Cardinal in the bottom of the sixth by hitting an RBI double on a hit-and-run to score Hoerner from first base. Junior right fielder Brandon Wulff, who recently came back from an injury suffered in late March, smacked his first hit since March 25 to score Stowers and to give Stanford a 9-0 lead.
After 2.1 innings of relief by sophomores Luke Sleeper and Will Matthiessen, freshman reliever Carson Rudd began the ninth and gave up one, but got two outs. Esquer put in senior John Henry Styles to finish the game, but the southpaw was unable to keep the ball in the zone and yielded four runs.
Sophomore reliever Zach Grech came in, but he couldn’t get the final out, so Little was brought in to finish the job, which he did thanks to a solid 9-6 force out of the runner at second base.
The conclusion to Stanford v. Washington State begins on Sunday at noon in Sunken Diamond. The game will be broadcast by the Pac-12 Networks.
Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.