It’s always Fullerton, isn’t it?
For two straight years, Fullerton has been the thorn in Stanford’s side in its regional, last year beating the Cardinal twice to eliminate them from the postseason and this year handing Stanford its first loss of the regional on Saturday night.
And the loss came about in a particularly painful way.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth and Will Matthiessen on the mound, freshman pinch-hitter Jace Chamberlin hit his first career home run off the bottom of the scoreboard to give Fullerton (34-23) a 2-1 walk-off victory in Stanford’s own ballpark.
Being walked off at home is surely a bad feeling. And likely so is knowing you have to win three games in two days — including two more against that same pesky Fullerton squad — to avoid elimination from the postseason.
“The tale of this [game] obviously was we had a number of opportunities to score some runs and get a big swing,” Stanford head coach David Esquer said, “and they got the big swing.”
The result should not overshadow an impressive performance from junior Kris Bubic, who, after surrendering two hits and a run in the first inning, maintained control and only gave up one hit and two walks through the rest of his 7-inning, 130-pitch outing, a career high.
His longevity was a huge relief for the Cardinal bullpen that had been depleted after the extra-inning game yesterday, during which relievers Jack Little and Jacob Palisch pitched for 3.1 and 2.1 innings, respectively.
“Kris did an outstanding job of pitching tonight. He was at his all-time best, as good as I’ve ever seen him,” Esquer said. “And we need it in a big moment.”
Bubic ended the evening with 10 strikeouts — four in the second alone (the leadoff hitter reached first on a passed ball) — three hits, two walks, and one batter hit by a pitch.
Stanford (45-11) surrendered a run in the first inning for the second game in a row, though tonight in a less dramatic way than yesterday. Bubic gave up two hits before Daniel Cope’s sacrifice fly to left field allowed Hank LoForte to score from third.
The only other real spark from Fullerton — besides the walk-off — came in the sixth: On Sahid Valenzuela’s single to left field, Mitchell Berryhill, who had been at second, rounded third to try to make it home. Kyle Stowers threw a laser to the plate, and Christian Molfetta tagged Berryhill out and preserved the tie.
Holding the Titans to one run only did so much, as the Cardinal couldn’t get anything going on the offensive end.
Facing a 1-0 deficit for most of the game, Stanford was retired in order in four innings, three of which came before the sixth. Fullerton starter Tommy Wilson took a no-hitter into the fourth, when Nico Hoerner finally recorded Stanford’s first hit, a double off the left-field wall. It was his second well-hit ball in two at bats, with his first also going to the warning track.
Hoerner was ultimately stranded on second when Andrew Daschbach and Stowers struck out, a result that would become all too familiar during the second half of the game.
In the sixth, after Tim Tawa’s mishandled triple plated Alec Wilson from second, a combination of bad luck and a bad at-bat left two on base: Despite trying to return to the base, Tawa was tagged out at third on a fielder’s choice, where Hoerner reached. Then Daschbach was hit by a pitch, but Stowers’ strikeout precluded the Cardinal from taking the lead.
The Cardinal also had runners on first and second with one out in the top of the seventh, but two consecutive strikeouts (the former coming on a wild pitch that allowed the baserunners to advance) ended things for the Cardinal once more.
“[Fullerton starter Tommy Wilson] kept the ball up a little bit. He rode that fastball up, and we had a lot of fly balls, a lot of pop-ups,” Esquer said about Stanford’s hitting difficulties today. “Eventually we made a little bit of an adjustment….. We gave ourselves some opportunities, we just couldn’t punch those runs across when we had them.”
Stanford’s best chance at taking the lead came in the eighth against reliever Brett Conine, with Hoerner and Daschbach on the corners and one out. Stowers hit into a double play, though Esquer briefly contested the ruling at first.
Stanford ultimately hit .200 with runners in scoring position and 2-for-13 with runners on.
“We just haven’t been able to relax and have that big at-bat in the spot,” Esquer said. “Hopefully we’ll play enough baseball tomorrow that by the time we get at it we’ll be a lot more comfortable swinging the bat.”
“Team hitting is a hard thing to put a finger on a lot of the time,” Hoerner said. “I’m excited to see how we answer tomorrow. I don’t think there’s one single answer that fixes everything, but I have a lot of trust in our team.”
Stanford hopes its offense returns to its usual productive self when it faces Baylor, the two-seed of the Stanford Regional, in an elimination game at 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Either Brendan Beck or Erik Miller will start on the mound for the Cardinal.
If the Cardinal advance, they will have to exact revenge and beat Fullerton later Sunday evening to force a third, winner-take-all matchup between the two rivals on Monday.
Contact Alexa Philippou at aphil723 ‘at’ stanford.edu.