In the first homestand of the year, No. 12 Stanford (6-1) clinched a series victory over UNLV (4-4) on Sunday after splitting a Saturday doubleheader. All three games were decided by one run.
“These were three really good baseball games against strong opposition, so it’s always nice to end the weekend with a series win under our belts,” head coach David Esquer said.
“It’s awesome, there’s nothing like playing at your home field, especially when it’s Sunken Diamond,” right-handed pitcher Will Matthiessen said. “To start out six-and-one and not play our best baseball is definitely a good sign, and shows us how good we can be.”
“We talk about it a lot — pitching and defense and having a different hero every night. We’re going to rely on everybody in our batting order and in our program,” Matthiessen said.
UNLV won the series opener 2-1 behind the strength of starting pitcher Cameron Jabara. In 7.0 innings, Jabara walked three and allowed only five hits.
Stanford starter, sophomore right-handed pitcher Brendan Beck, had his Friday start pushed back to the first game of the doubleheader. Beck ran into some trouble in the top of the first inning when Edarian Williams doubled with two outs to bring home Jack-Thomas Wold. A batter later, Max Smith singled home Williams, and UNLV had a lead they would never relinquish.
Beck (0-1) threw 6.0 innings, allowing two earned runs on a career-high 99 pitches.
Senior infielder Duke Kinamon made his first appearance in 630 days, making a spectacular diving play running toward the left-field line in the third. Impressive defensive plays were a theme of the afternoon, as both freshman infielder Brandon Dieter and senior outfielder Alec Wilson showed off the leather as well. Stanford did not commit an error throughout both Saturday games.
Sophomore infielder Tim Tawa scored Stanford’s only run of the game in the bottom of the fourth on an error after his team-high fourth steal in four attempts to cut the deficit to one.
Sophomore left-handed pitcher Austin Weiermiller relieved Beck, throwing a career-high five strikeouts over 3.0 shutout innings, but Stanford could never ignite the offense, going down in order in the ninth as Jackson Cofer earned his third save of the year for the Rebels.
Stanford received quality starts from Beck in Game 1 and sophomore LHP Jacob Palisch in Game 2.
“We’re still stuck underwater a little bit with the bats, but we pitched and played great defense for 18 innings today,” Esquer said.
It was not long before Stanford was on the board in the second game, a contest it would win 4-3. Senior outfielder Brandon Wulff walked to lead off the second inning and scored on Andrew Daschbach’s sacrifice fly to deep left.
Palisch tossed a career-high 81 pitches over 5.1 innings of one-run ball, stranding runners in each of the five frames he finished. His replacement freshman Cody Jensen could not replicate the ability to escape unscathed, as he balked with the bases loaded in the sixth to allow the tying run to score.
Jensen got the first two outs in the next frame before junior right-handed pitcher Zach Grech carried the game into the seventh inning stretch. Matthiessen, whose two hits accounted for half of Stanford’s Game 2 total, crushed Stanford’s first home run of the season to straightaway center.
Grech secured the first two outs of the eighth before handing the ball off to junior right-handed pitcher Jack Little. A ground ball completed the inning, but in the top of the ninth, sophomore outfielder Christian Robinson misjudged a Bryson Stott line drive for a triple. Stott scored on a groundout shortstop to tie the game, and Little blew the second save of his career.
Baseball always finds a way to make things right, and in the bottom of the ninth, Robinson came up with two outs and runners on second and third. He roped a double to right field to give the Cardinal their first walk-off victory.
“We had a late hiccup in the second game but credit Robinson for coming back and getting the big hit to end it,” Esquer said.
On Sunday, the first breakthrough came in the fourth for the Rebels. Starter junior left-handed pitcher Erik Miller (1-0) had faced the minimum through three until Stott sent a ball over the wall in right center.
In the fifth, Miller faced his toughest test with runners on second and third with one out. Godman reached on an error by the shortstop Kinamon before Rosenberg doubled. The error was only Stanford’s third of the season. A groundout and an intentional walk set up 3B Tawa to tap his bag for the third out of the inning.
The Rebels struck again in the sixth when Smith doubled in Williams from first. Miller would exit the game after six innings with two earned runs, six strikeouts and two walks.
“I thought Miller was excellent, pitching through a couple jams and keeping us in the game while our bats took a while to warm up,” Esquer said. “He showed great maturity in the way he pitched today. He probably wasn’t able to do that in the first few years.”
Although he would have preferred the team shut the door on the Rebels a little earlier, Esquer acknowledged experience in close games can become important later on in the season.
“You want to prove to your team that you can get through tight games,” Esquer said.
The Cardinal broke it open with a five-run inning in the bottom half. Handley walked to lead off and stole second, but the extra 90 feet was superfluous as Matthiessen’s second home run in as many days brought him home and tied the game. Brandon Wulff stepped into the box and went back-to-back with a solo bomb to capture a lead Stanford would never forfeit. The trio of Handley, Matthiessen and Wulff have reached base safely in all seven games this season.
“Feeling good at the plate,” Matthiessen said. “Just trying to stay relaxed and stick to my approach.”
The inning was not over, as Robinson reached on an error and Kinamon recorded his first hit to set up Dieter for a two-out two-RBI single. Stanford added necessary insurance in the seventh with a Wulff single scoring Stowers, who was on board via a hit by pitch.
For the second time this season, Matthiessen came on in relief after in the same game he drove in a run, and pitched shutouts in the seventh and eighth. In the top of the ninth, he followed up his third strikeout by allowing a single and was removed in favor of Little with a 3-3 batting line and 2.1 innings pitched.
“Since we’re not playing well, I said ‘Hey, sometimes it comes down to will.’ [The team] thought literally I meant Will,” said Esquer. “It seems like these last two games it did come down to our will.”
A strikeout looking put the Cardinal within one out of a win, but Little gave up the first home run of his career on a full count to Stott. Johnson singled to bring up Wold, whose shot to deep center was limited to a single only by his admiration. Harmony pinch ran for Wold, and a Williams double would have tied scored Harmony and tied the game had Wold hustled out his double. Instead, Little induced a game-ending strikeout, and the Cardinal won the series.
“It’s just a work in progress,” Esquer said. “We’re not anywhere near where we need to be.”
Stanford will address that progress in its first midweek matchup of the year, Tuesday against USF (4-2) at 6 p.m.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.