Coming into the weekend series against Washington (30-23, 20-10 Pac-12), No. 3 Stanford baseball (44-10, 22-8) had the magic number of one game in order to clinch the Pac-12 championship.
Easy, right? Not exactly.
The Huskies, who needed wins to make the postseason, seemed the better team for 26.0 innings, taking the first two games of the series. A sweep at the hands of Washington would mean that the Cardinal would have to share the Pac-12 title with the Huskies.
Down 5-3 with three outs left, Stanford and sophomore designated hitter Will Matthiessen had other plans.
Matthiessen hit a two-run home run to tie the game, and then junior shortstop Nico Hoerner hit in the go-ahead run by beating out the throw to first base to give the Cardinal a 6-5 win and outright ownership of the Pac-12 championship.
The title is the first for the Cardinal since 2004 and the first for Stanford head coach David Esquer, who replaced Mark Marquess in June 2017.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of this team and every single one of these players,” Esquer said. “This team is never out of it. I love coaching these guys, I love watching them play and our coaching staff has done just a great job of preparing them for moments like this.”
The Huskies had the Cardinal’s number all series, defeating Stanford 7-0 on Thursday and 4-2 on Friday.
The Cardinal offense struggled with the Huskies pitching staff until tagging starter Joe DeMers with five earned runs in the final game of the series.
Sophomore left fielder Kyle Stowers drew a walk to begin the top of the ninth and then Matthiessen hit his homer over the left field wall to the tie the game.
It was his seventh home run of the season.
Then, a single by senior second baseman Beau Branton loaded up the bases with Hoerner up to bat with two outs. He knocked a grounder deep to the Huskies shortstop, but the throw to first couldn’t make it in time to get Hoerner out. The runs to give the Cardinal a lead and sophomore closer Jack Little, who came in the eighth, shut the Huskies out to get the win.
Matthiessen went 2-for-3 with two runs scored, two RBI and a walk in the final game of the series. Hoerner, the other hero, went 3-for-5 with the game winning RBI.
Little had four strikeouts in 2.0 innings and got the win with a dominant performance.
Junior left-handed pitcher Kris Bubic was the starter, and he had an up-and-down performance with five strikeouts, three earned runs (four overall) and five hits allowed in 5.0 innings pitched.
The Cardinal will host the NCAA Regional as the first seed where they will first play fourth-seeded Wright State on Friday at 7 p.m. PT and then will play the winner of the Baylor-Cal State Fullerton game on Saturday.
“This league proved how much quality it has top to bottom,” Esquer said. “Heading into the postseason, the key is getting comfortable being uncomfortable, and I have full confidence in this team.”
Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.