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Baseball topples top-ranked UCLA in walk-off thriller

No. 2 Cardinal upset No. 1 Bruins at home

Junior DH Will Matthiessen (above) hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth on Friday night to give No. 2 Stanford a 3-2 win over No. 1 UCLA.

Matthiessen in the clutch! No. 2 Stanford (20-3, 7-0 Pac-12) extended its win streak to eleven games in walk-off fashion with a 3-2 home victory over No. 1 UCLA (21-6, 7-3 Pac-12) on Friday night at Sunken Diamond.

“This game was a test at the highest level, and UCLA did a great job of coming back,” said Stanford head coach David Esquer. “I give our guys credit for being able to take a punch and not go down.”

After leading since the bottom of the first inning, the Cardinal suffered its first blemish of the evening in the top of the ninth when the Bruins knotted the game at two. Stanford loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth, and junior DH Will Matthiessen (.346/.433/.519) came through with a two-out single to left and was mobbed soon after rounding first.

“I was 0-4 heading into that at bat,” Matthiessen said. “1-5 has never felt better.”

In his seventh start of the season, sophomore RHP Brendan Beck (1-2, 2.05 ERA) was phenomenal from the first pitch. Although he benefited from Stanford’s staunch defense, Beck did not leave all of the work to his fielders. In the top of the first, the sophomore leaped while covering the bag to field a high throw from junior first baseman Andrew Daschbach.

“Getting through the first was big for me,” Beck said. “In the bottom of the first the offense made my job a whole lot easier.”

The Cardinal touched up RHP Zach Pettway (2-2, 3.42 ERA) right away, when senior outfielder Brandon Wulff (.256/.383/.538) mashed his sixth home run of season into the left field trees. Afterward, both pitchers settled in, and the game moved at a steady tempo.

“Brendan Beck was awesome tonight,” Matthiessen said. “Their guy, Pettway, was really, really good. It felt like you blinked and it was the fifth inning already.”

The strong defense from the Cardinal continued into the second inning, when Bellafronto came across the diamond to field a swinging bunt to end the inning. The third was replete with solid defense as well, as Beck once again made a play, throwing out a runner at third to foil a bunt attempt.

“Fielding the position is huge, we work on it a lot, so it’s nice to make the plays out there,” Beck said.

Beck did not have to do anything but watch as the middle infield pairing of sophomore shortstop Tim Tawa and senior second baseman Duke Kinamon turned a double play to get out of the inning.

Beck’s first sign of trouble came in the sixth, when he issued a leadoff walk, his first of the night, and then gave up a single to Kevin Kendall (.282/.350/.310). Bellafronto, however, was able to field a sharply hit ball, record the force out at first, and then throw across the diamond to catch the runner at first. The very next pitch, junior Kyle Stowers saved a run and robbed UCLA’s best hitter, Jack Stronach (.414/.507/.586), with a leaping grab in center field.

“I lost my mind when Stowers made that play in right center,” Beck said. “That’s one of the best plays I’ve seen on this field.”

Stowers, who played center field in high school but only recently began playing the position for the Cardinal, recorded just one putout over his first 18 innings, had four on Friday night.

“In that part of the game, for him to sell out and come up successfully, it fired me up and fired the whole team up,” Beck said.

In a defensive switch in the seventh, sophomore Christian Robinson entered to play center, moving Wulff to right and Stowers to left. Stowers was promptly greeted with a line drive that took him to the warning track for his second excellent defensive play.

At the plate, Stanford received leadoff doubles in both the fourth and seventh innings, but was unable to capitalize on either opportunity. In between, the Cardinal went down in order in the fifth and stranded a pair of two-out walks in the sixth. Stanford left eight on base on the night, and in what could have been the difference, UCLA left nine.

Beck started off the eighth with a three-pitch strikeout, but walked Jake Pries (.313/.423/.488), who entered as a pinch-hitter. Beck was finished after his second walk of the night, tossing 7.1 innings, striking out five, and surrendering five hits. Jordan Prendiz replaced Pries on the bases, and took second on a delayed steal, before advancing to third when neither middle infielder was present to receive the throw from Handley.

“Give them credit,” Esquer said. “They delayed a steal in the biggest spot of the game.”

Junior RHP Jack Little (3-1, 2.25 ERA) came out of the bullpen and walked the first batter, Garrett Mitchell (.311/.392/.462). In what Esquer called “one of the biggest defensive plays,” Bellafronto ate a bunt attempt in order to prevent Prendiz from scoring from third. This allowed Little, with the bases loaded, to strike out Strumpf looking.

Stronach came up with two outs, working a full count despite falling behind 0-2. The Bruin fouled off the first two offerings from Little, but whiffed on the third, as the two Cardinal pitchers combined to strike out the side and preserve the shutout.

The Cardinal added a necessary insurance run when, two innings after preventing a two-out RBI double, Stowers doubled down the right field line to plate Daschbach and chase Pettway. Pettway tossed 7.2 innings, surrendering eight hits, two runs and a pair of walks while striking out five. Michael Townsend (0-0, 3.38 ERA) came in for the Bruins, and averted any more damage.

“UCLA is going to throw a guy that is a playoff type of pitcher,” Esquer said. “Our guys are going to have to learn how to relax and get a hit.”

Esquer made two defensive substitutions at the top of the ninth, inserting freshman Brandon Dieter at shortstop – which pushed Tawa to third – and replacing Wulff in right field with senior Alec Wilson.

Little walked the leadoff batter before recording the first out of the ninth with a strikeout. Jack Filby pinch hit for UCLA, singling to right, to put runners on first and second. Ryan Kreidler (.323/.397/.545) doubled down the left field line, scoring one, but Mikey Perez, who pinch ran for Filby, was held up at third by assistant coach Bryant Ward.

“They came up with some two-out, two-strike hits against our best pitcher,” Esquer said.

“They weren’t just going to let us win a 2-0 game and go home.”

RJ Teijeiro (.250/.250/.400) was the next Bruins pinch hitter, skying one to left field that fell in between Stowers and Robinson for an RBI single. “A little miscommunication there,” Stowers said.

“It’s better to learn from those types of mistakes when you are able to dig out a win,” Esquer added.

Little was replaced, and after a double steal, sophomore LHP Austin Weiermiller (5-0, 0.55 ERA) was pitching with one out and runners at second and third. Weiermiller, however, navigated the dire situation with a strikeout and a fly out to center to leave unscathed.

With the win, Weiermiller now has five, two more on the season than any other Cardinal pitcher, despite exclusively coming out of the bullpen for all eleven appearances.

Among a smattering of defensive moves, UCLA brought in Kyle Mora (2-2, 2.25 ERA) to pitch the bottom of the ninth. Robinson (.235/.333/.353) struck out, but reached first on a wild pitch. Attepting to bunt with two strikes, Wilson (.154/.227/.282) struck out, so Robinson got himself into scoring position with a steal.

After Handley flew out, the Bruins intentionally walked Kinamon to force Esquer to make a decision about Dieter (.197/.286/.230). The coach called on Nick Oar to pinch hit; he drew a walk to load the bases for Will Matthiessen. Matthiessen squared one up, and it fell for a base hit in left field to secured Stanford its third walk-off win of the season.

“This was a great team win,” Esquer said. “We cracked a little bit at the end, but they ultimately came through.”

Stowers compared the energy from the announced crowd of 1,860 to a regional game or fireworks night. On Friday, it took a team effort, but Stanford brought the fireworks.

The show resumes Saturday at 2:05 p.m. PT with game two between RHP Jack Ralston (4-0, 2.66 ERA) and sophomore LHP Jacob Palisch (2-0, 4.94 ERA).

Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’

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