There is one team between No. 11 seed Stanford (45-12, 22-7 Pac-12) and their first trip to Omaha since 2008, and it is No. 3 seed Mississippi State (49-13 , 20-10 SEC). Over the weekend, the two sides will meet for a best-of-three series in Starkville at the 11,000 seat Dudy Noble Field.
For the Cardinal, whose most-attended matchup was a crowd of 3,470 for an away clash with Arizona State, the noise of Southern hospitality may be the biggest test. Last weekend, a traveling Fresno State crowd rattled Stanford in the Saturday loss, while the presence of the home crowd on the Monday finale bolstered the Cardinal.
The Bulldogs surely have experience, as they will be seeking their second straight trip to Omaha in their fourth consecutive appearance in the Super Regionals. Mississippi State finished second in the SEC before sweeping the regional to set up the dalliance with Stanford.
For all of the talk of the Bulldogs’ home-run suppressing staff, who have surrendered just 34 all year, the Cardinal are right there with them, having allowed just 39. Meanwhile, Stanford’s 87 home runs are the fifth highest total in the nation and 25 more than Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs believe they hold the advantage in pitching, heralding the Milwaukee Brewers’ 28th pick, LHP Ethan Small (9-2, 1.88 ERA), at the front of their rotation. RHP JT Ginn’s (8-4, 3.36 ERA) status is uncertain after he exited the regional opener last week with arm tightness, and he has not picked up a baseball as of Wednesday afternoon. The Bulldogs will potentially have to look past Peyton Plumlee (6-4, 3.87 ERA) for a third option. The bullpen’s best offerings include Jared Liebelt (2-0, 2.74 ERA) and RHP Cole Gordon (4-0, 3.96 ERA).
Mississippi State would also imagine fans in awe of their offense, which is first in doubles (154), fifth in batting (.317) and ninth in scoring (8.1). The Bulldogs have the conference’s all-time career hits leader in Jake Mangum (.357/.415/.468), who leads the team in runs (71) and doubles (22). Meanwhile, Justin Foscue (.340/.399/.590) leads the team in home runs (14) and RBIs (58).
Stanford’s power is led by senior outfielder Brandon Wulff (.270/.392/.590) and junior first baseman Andrew Daschbach (.300/.396/.626). Wulff, the 521st overall selection in the MLB draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, paces the team with 19, and Dachbach, who joins the Baltimore Orioles as the 318th pick, is not far behind with 17.
The Bulldogs have seem to forgotten that the Cardinal were ranked within the top five nearly all season and only a last-second spurning from the committee prevented Sunken Diamond from hosting the Super Regional. Hitting, however, is not even Stanford’s strength. Throughout Mark Marquess’ 41-year career, including a national championship with now head coach David Esquer at starting shortstop, and into the Esquer era, pitching and defense have been paramount.
Mississippi State’s .973 fielding percentage is ranked 77th nationally, and is leagues behind Stanford’s .977 clip, which is 28th in the sport. Stanford also has 53 double plays, the 18th highest total, while Mississippi State sits at 33. Moreover, the Cardinal flaunt the Pac-12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year junior catcher Maverick Handley, who is now up to eight pickoffs and 13 caught stealing.
As for Stanford’s skill on the hill, the rotation of sophomore RHP Brendan Beck (5-3, 3.25 ERA), junior RHP Will Matthiessen (6-2, 3.71 ERA) and junior LHP Erik Miller (8-2, 3.15 ERA) is dominant. Beck threw 7.0 shutout innings in his last start, and then he threw 3.1 perfect innings in relief on Monday. Matthiessen, who, as a DH, is one of just two Cardinal to have started all 57 games, allowed just one run in 5.0 innings to Fresno State. Miller, selected 120th overall by the Philadelphia Phillies, redeemed two years worth of heartbreak in the Sunday elimination game.
Now, with freshman RHP Alex Williams (8-1, 2.56 ERA) moving to the bullpen in a three game series, Stanford’s strength is made that much better. Williams, whose last outing was a complete game effort with eight strikeouts and two walks, raised his BB/9 to 1.14, which is still the seventh best rate in the country. He will now join junior RHP Zach Grech (2-0, 3.80 ERA) and sophomore LHPs Austin Weiermiller (6-0, 2.51 ERA) and Jacob Palisch (5-2, 4.77 ERA) as the first options in relief. The capstone of the bullpen is Stanford’s all-time career saves leader, junior RHP Jack Little (3-2, 3.32 ERA), who joins high school teammate Wulff in the Dodgers organization.
Somehow, Small didn’t sound too worried about the matchup with Wulff, Daschbach, Matthiessen, or any of the other Cardinal hitters. With perfect hospitality, Small invited, “If they can bang, let them come on and try to do it I guess.”
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.