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Baseball faces elimination after dropping first game

Junior catcher Maverick Handley (above), was one of the few bright spots in Saturday's game. Handley scored one of just two Cardinal runs. Defensively, he got Stanford out of a bases-loaded inning with his ninth pickoff of the season. (BOB DREBIN/isiphotos.com)

No. 11 Stanford (45-13, 22-7 Pac-12) dropped the first contest of the Super Regional 6-2 to No. 6 Mississippi State (50-13, 20-10 SEC). With an attendance of 13,132, the third largest Super Regional crowd in NCAA College World Series history was on hand at Dudy Noble Field to witness the game.

For the fourth time in the past five games, Stanford scored a first inning run. With one out, junior catcher Maverick Handley (.295/.399/.450) singled off of RHP Ethan Small (9-2, 1.88 ERA). The third baseman Marshall Gilbert was nutmegged by senior right fielder Brandon Wulff (.271/.396/.591) on a ground ball, and the bases were loaded after junior DH Will Matthiessen’s (.316/.395/.542) walk.

It looked as if the Cardinal would put up a four-spot, but center fielder Jake Mangum robbed junior first baseman Andrew Daschbach (.295/.388/.614) of a grand slam. Daschbach’s effort was good for a sacrifice fly, an unearned run that was the only blemish in Small’s 6.0 inning victory. The 28th pick of the MLB draft struck out eight, walked two and allowed just five hits.

“It’s a game of inches and there were several moments that could have gone our way but didn’t tonight,” said Stanford head coach David Esquer. “If we’ve been anything this season, we’ve been resilient, and I trust that our guys will come out and play a better game tomorrow and be more comfortable out there.”

In the bottom half, after extending his all-time SEC career hits lead, Mangum was caught trying to go first to third on single. Sophomore RHP Brendan Beck (5-4, 3.63 ERA) was able to get through a clean first inning facing just four Mississippi State batters.

Stanford stranded two in the second and again in the fifth as the Bulldogs built a five-run lead. Small struck out the side in the third inning, then induced a trio of flyouts in the fourth.

Mississippi State first tied the game in the second, when Dustin Skelton (.308/.378/.498) dropped a double down the right field line. Josh Hatcher (.323/.387/.510) hit a two-out RBI single for the first run allowed by Beck in 12.0 postseason innings. Although Marshall Gilbert (.308/.426/.487) reached on a walk, Beck was able to limit the damage to one.

On the first pitch of the bottom of the third inning, Jordan Westburg (.296/.409/.465) hit a double. Sophomore left fielder Kyle Stowers (.304/.371/.514) showed off his athleticism on a diving catch in the left field corner, and another quick out was recorded on a flyout to center, though Westburg advanced to third. After falling behind 3-0 to Justin Foscue (.340/.399/.590), Stanford made the decision to put him on first base. Skelton took advantage, doubling to left center to score both runs with two outs.

The fourth inning saw the final three Mississippi State runs, beginning with Hatcher’s automatic double. Beck then walked Gilbert, his season-high-tying third free pass, which was issued in just 3.0+ innings, his shortest outing of the season. After both runs came around to score, Beck would be charged with five runs, allowing seven hits and striking out two.

Called out of the bullpen for his 31st appearance, Junior RHP Zach Grech (2-0, 3.71 ERA) got Mangum to groundout for the inning’s first out. A throwing error by sophomore shortstop Tim Tawa (.252/.283/.411) allowed Hatcher to come around to score. Tanner Allen (.350/.427/.528) then hit a seeing-eye ground ball up the middle to score Gilbert, and an Elijah MacNamee (.289/.403/.472) ground out scored Westburg.

Freshman RHP Cody Jensen (1-0, 3.55 ERA) then settled the game down with five strikeouts in 2.1 innings beginning in the fifth. A one-out single surrendered to Foscue in the seventh inning brought sophomore LHP Austin Weiermiller out of the bullpen. Working around a walk and another Tawa error, Weiermiller escaped the frame.

Small exited in the top of the seventh inning, relieved by Colby White (3-1, 3.28 ERA). Both Stowers and Wulff walked in the inning, but with two outs, Matthiessen grounded out to strand two more Cardinal.

“Ethan Small did a great job after being a little unsettled early on in the first inning,” Esquer said. “Then, all of the sudden, he found a groove and kept us at bay from the first inning on.”

The Cardinal got a run back from RHP Jared Liebelt (2-0, 2.74 ERA), who relieved White in the top of the eighth inning. Kinamon and Tawa hit back-to-back one-out singles to put runners on the corner, then, with two outs sophomore center fielder Christian Robinson (.295/.395/.381) singled up the middle. Stanford would again strand a pair on Stowers ground out.

“Sometimes when the game elevates, some guys will rise to the top,” Esquer said. “[Robinson] has done that for the last two weekends.”

Alongside sophomore LHP Jacob Palisch (5-2, 4.69 ERA), freshman shortstop Brandon Dieter entered as a defensive substitute for Tawa in the bottom of the eighth inning. With a runner on first and two outs, MacNamee stayed with a ball up the middle and evaded Kinamon’s tag at second for a double. Stanford intentionally walked Foscue, who was lulled to sleep with the bases loaded and caught by Handley’s ninth pickoff of the season.

“Obviously it was a big moment in the game,” Handley said. “They had an opportunity to put a couple of runs on us. [Daschbach] and I decided in that moment we were back pick it in there.”

Trying to come back in the ninth, Wulff hit Stanford’s first extra base hit of the game off the wall. He became the twelfth Stanford base runner to be stranded as RHP Cole Gordon (4-0, 3.96 ERA) struck out two Cardinal in the inning. Mississippi State amassed 14 strikeouts, tied for the most of any Stanford opponent this season.

The Cardinal did tally nine hits, just three fewer than the Bulldogs. Handley, who rides a 16-game reached-base streak, Tawa, and Robinson all had multi-hit games.

Stanford will now face elimination on Sunday at 6 p.m. PT with junior LHP Erik Miller (8-2, 3.15 ERA) on the mound.

Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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