By Jose Saldana
On Senior Day, it was only fitting that a senior would come through to knock in the go-ahead run, but it was a sophomore that closed the show.
No. 3 Stanford baseball (43-8-0, 21-6-0 Pac-12) swept Washington State (15-31-1, 7-19-1) by winning Game 3 4-2 with the help of an eight-out save by sophomore closer Jack Little.
Because No. 2 Oregon State lost to USC on Sunday, the Cardinal have a 2.5-game lead on the Beavers for the Pac-12 championship. If Stanford can win its next days, then it will claim the conference title for the first time since 2004.
Seniors Beau Branton, Bryce Carter, Jesse Kuet and John Henry Styles were honored before the game to commemorate their final regular season home game of their careers.
The game wasn’t exactly pretty with the Cougars’ starting pitcher Parker McFadden racking up nine strikeouts in 4.2 innings.
“It’s just Pac-12 baseball,” Stanford head coach David Esquer said. “Doesn’t matter what the records are, if they come out to play, it is going to be hard to win. It looked like one of those Sundays where we were going to lay an egg, but our guys won’t let that happen.”
The Cardinal were down 2-1 in the 6th before junior center fielder Alec Wilson tied the game at 2-2. One batter later, Branton broke the impasse in the bottom of the sixth inning with an RBI single through right center field. The second baseman had an impressive series, going 7-for-12 with five runs scored and five RBI, including a hit and walk on Senior Day.
Freshman starter Brendan Beck didn’t have a clean sheet, giving up six hits and two earned runs in 4.1 innings pitched, but freshman reliever Jacob Palisch and Little were up to task to close out Washington State.
“We didn’t know that Palisch was going to be like this and we didn’t know what Little would be back in the fall,” Esquer said of the unexpected rise of the underclassman.
Little made his second appearance, in the series as his first came abruptly on Saturday due to a ninth-inning meltdown by the Cardinal. His coaching staff has been confident in giving their closer more than three-outs to get and he relayed their convictions once again by going 2.2 innings and striking out five Cougars. Once he came into the game, Washington State could do very little.
“He has been big every weekend we put him out there,” Esquer said of his closer. “We wouldn’t be where we are at without Jack Little.”
“Today, was definitely the changeup,” Little said on what was working for him. “I’ve been working on it the last couple of weeks in order to fine tune it. Along with the good defense behind me, it has been really comfortable being out there.”
Palisch earned the victory after pitching 2.0 innings of shutout ball. The southpaw has been great all year with an 1.74 ERA, but he has been even better as of late, yielding zero runs in his last 8.2 innings.
Beck went through 3.0 scoreless, but his command was shaky as he left pitches in the middle of the zone far too often. In the fourth, the Cougars bit him for two runs, and he left in the fifth with one out.
Beck has been filling in for sophomore left-handed pitcher Erik Miller, but the freshman has filled in admirably even if the recent results haven’t been too kind to him.
Sophomore first baseman Andrew Daschbach, probably inspired by Senior Day, sent a solo home run over the left field in the second on the first pitch he saw to give the Cardinal an early 1-0 lead.
The shot was Daschbach’s 16th home run of the season, which ranks fourth in the Pac-12 and is the first Stanford hitter to have 16 or more homers in a season since 2008, when Sean Ratliff ‘08 had 22.
Daschbach is also tied for third in the Pac-12 with 60 RBI (leads the team) and is the first Cardinal to have 60 or more RBI in a season since 2008, when Jason Castro ‘08 knocked in 73 runners.
The Cardinal play their final series of the season on the road against Washington beginning on May 24 at 6 p.m. PT. They only need to win one game to win the Pac-12.
“That would be incredible,” Little said of the prospect of winning the Pac-12 championship. “I don’t remember the last time Stanford won the Pac-12, but to win one…you can’t take that away from us.”
Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.