The road ended in Starkville with an 8-1 loss, as No. 11 Stanford (45-14, 22-7 Pac-12) could not overcome No. 6 Mississippi State (51-13, 20-10 SEC) in the Super Regional. The Cardinal never looked like themselves across the two defeats, losing just its second series of the season to allow the Bulldogs to return to Omaha for the second consecutive year.
“I’m so proud of my team to have made it this far,” said Stanford head coach David Esquer. “On top of our offense struggling, things just didn’t go our way this week.”
Game 2 began eerily similar to Game 1. In the first inning, much like sophomore RHP Brendan Beck the night before, junior LHP Erik Miller (8-3, 3.48 ERA) struck out two in a dominant frame.
Once again, Stanford scored a first-inning run, this time on a leadoff home run from junior left fielder Kyle Stowers (.303/.369/.523), his ninth of the year and the Cardinal’s 88th. That was the only blemish on Peyton Plumlee’s (6-4, 3.87 ERA) brilliant outing. Without their regular Game 2 starter, JT Ginn (8-4, 3.36 ERA), who exited last weekend with fatigue, the Bulldogs called on Plumlee, and he delivered. In 6.2 innings, Plumlee surrendered just one run on two hits and one walk, to accompany six strikeouts.
Then, in the second inning, Miller began to lose control, as Beck did the day before, and issued two walks in a scoreless frame. Again, Stanford stranded two runners after both sophomore shortstop Tim Tawa (.253/.284/.410) and redshirt junior third baseman Nick Bellafronto (.262/.388/.500) reached on a pair of errors from third baseman Marshall Gilbert.
The Bulldogs broke the game open in the third inning as Miller lost the strike zone. With Gilbert (.311/.434/.487) on first base after a single, a productive groundout advanced the runner. Miller then hit Jordan Westburg (.298/.409/.468) before a strike out of Tanner Allen (.351/.427/.525). Consecutive four-pitch walks to Elijah MacNamee (.287/.399/.470) and Justin Foscue (.340/.402/.587) plated the first Bulldogs’ run.
The Stanford pitching coach went to the mound to talk to Miller, who was momentarily able to find the zone against Dustin Skelton (.312/.380/.507), before Skelton lifted one to the top of the right center wall for a bases clearing triple. Both sophomore center fielder Christian Robinson (.287/.386/.370) and senior right fielder Brandon Wulff (.272/.398/.592) leaped for the catch, which came within inches of the Bulldogs crowd, but upon review there was found to be no fan interference.
Sophomore LHP Jacob Palisch (5-2, 4.79 ERA) relieved Miller after his 2.2 innings, five strikeouts, four walks and four runs. Palisch escaped the inning on a groundout, then came back to work in the fourth inning. After a flyout, Palisch allowed a pair of singles, putting runners on the corner as junior RHP Zach Grech (2-0, 3.68 ERA) came out of the bullpen. Grech faced just one batter, Westburg, who hit a sacrifice fly to center deep enough to allow Gilbert to score from third.
Taking over on the mound was the Cardinal’s typical closer, junior RHP Jack Little (3-2, 3.37 ERA), who induced a pop up to end the fourth inning. Little then worked around a single in the fifth, retired the side in the sixth, scattered a single in the seventh, and then a double in the eighth.
Even as Little shut down the Bulldogs, Stanford could not get going on offense. Redshirt junior second baseman Duke Kinamon (.303/.348/.465) reached on a hit-by-pitch in the fourth inning, but was caught stealing to end the frame. Eight Cardinal were retired in order before Tawa put together a one-out single in the bottom of the seventh inning to chase Plumlee, the first hit he allowed since the leadoff home run. Pinch hitter Christian Molfetta beat the reliever Jared Liebelt (2-0, 2.86 ERA) for a single, but the inning ended on Robinson’s groundout.
Leading off the eighth inning, Stowers was robbed of a hit by Westburg’s diving play in the shift. A two-out double off the bat of Wulff in the eighth provided Stanford with its fourth and final hit, but two strikeouts looking in the frame meant Wulff became the sixth runner to be left on base.
As Little worked in the top of the ninth inning, the Bulldogs strung together a pair of hits for the first time, and chased the future Los Angeles Dodger after a flyout. Little finished with two runs on five hits over 4.2 innings, matching a career-best with five strikeouts.
In the first at-bat out of the bullpen, RHP Matthiessen (6-2, 3.83 ERA) fell behind 3-0 to MacNamee, who fouled off the pitch on a green light. Two pitches later, MacNamee had no such issues connecting and iced the game with a three-run home run. Matthiessen escaped without allowing further damage, but with the season on the line, the offense was once again futile in the bottom of the frame.
Facing Gordon out of the bullpen, Stanford went down in order. Junior first baseman Andrew Daschbach (.289/.382/.602) struck out swinging, Kinamon lined out on the first pitch, and for the trivia, Tawa’s strikeout ended the 2019 season.
“To make it this far and to battle this Mississippi State team to the end makes me so proud, and I wish Mississippi State the best of luck in Omaha,” Esquer said.
Picked to finish second in the Pac-12, Stanford did just that, and the team redeemed recent postseason woes to reach its first Super Regional since 2014. Eight Stanford players from this year’s team, and one in Daniel Bakst who did not play for the program this year, were drafted to the MLB. For the rest, Esquer will return to the helm for his third season on the Farm in 2020.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.
This article has been updated to reflect that the attempted catch by Robinson and Wulff came near fans in the audience, but no fan interfered with the trajectory of the ball. The Daily regrets this error.