No. 17 Stanford (1-2, 0-0 Pac-12) had been waiting all weekend for luck to turn its way. When freshman left fielder Brock Jones led off the game with a sinking line drive that was caught in right field, it looked like the wait would continue.
Instead, it all began to change when junior shortstop Tim Tawa found his way on base with a two-out single through the middle. The inning looked to be over when junior first baseman Nick Brueser skied a ball to right field, but Cal State Fullerton’s (2-1, 0-0 Big West) Jason Brandow could not make the play. Tawa, who was stealing on the play, was at third by the time the ball landed and took home on the error.
After the Titans equalized, Brueser once again reached on an error, setting the table for senior third baseman Nick Bellafronto to record the game-winning sacrifice fly in the fourth.
Stanford scored two runs on as many Fullerton errors and salvaged a Sunday win out of a lost series. The Titans out-hit the Cardinal 5-4 and struck out three fewer times but could not find the sweep.
“That was a rough win,” Esquer said. “We’re not there yet, but it says something for a team to come out and win when you’re not all the way there.”
“They helped us a little bit, but we were good enough to take advantage of it,” Esquer added.
Sophomore RHP Alex Williams (1-0) logged the longest and first quality start by a Cardinal pitcher this season. Coming off a complete game in the regional of the NCAA tournament last spring, Williams struck out three and held the Titans to one run, five hits and a walk in seven innings.
“He threw a lot of good pitches and he was able to pitch to a plan,” Esquer said. “He’s a bulldog. He’s tough.”
Each time returning to the dugout, Williams was noticeably animated.
“I was telling them they’re not beating me,” Williams said. “I’m tired of these guys getting weak hits, tired of them scraping away and beating us. I said we’re not losing today. I don’t care if it’s gonna be me or you but we’re all going to step up today to win this game.”
Williams was most fired up after redshirt senior catcher Christian Molfetta threw out his second runner of the game to end what would be Williams’ last frame.
“That was absolutely massive,” Williams said. “I gave up a couple knocks, and he [Molfetta] got him for me.”
“I think we work well together,” Williams added. “I love the timing that we have and the chemistry that we’re working with and the fact that he’s able to pick me up. He’ll get me sometimes. I’ll get him sometimes. So today he definitely got me on those two guys.”
Soon after becoming the first Cardinal to pitch with a lead this season, Williams issued a two-out walk to Josh Urps, who came around to even the score in the top of the second inning.
“I had a lot of confidence in my guys behind me, I knew that they were working, they were doing their best. I just kept rolling and had faith in my guys,” Williams said.
Fullerton pitcher Joe Magrisi (0-1) maintained the 1-1 score in the second and third innings while facing the minimum each time. In the fourth, though, his defense let him down, and Magrisi was knocked out of the game in the sixth inning and took the loss despite not giving up an earned run.
Each team used just one relief pitcher. The Titans’ Peyton Jones worked two scoreless innings with three strikeouts. Stanford sophomore RHP Cody Jensen, touching 90 mph with his fastball, overpowered his opposition for spotless eighth and ninth frames, earning the save.
Jensen had to go through the heart of the order, first forcing the red-hot Zach Lew to fly out to end the eighth. Lew came into the game hitting 5-of-9 with five runs, but was held to 1-of-4 on Sunday. In the ninth inning, Jensen induced a groundout to the two-hole and struck out the three- and four-spot hitters.
The fast-paced game lasted just two hours and 10 minutes, and Stanford found a way to put one in the win column.
“We don’t schedule light to start any season,” Esquer said. “We don’t put someone on the schedule just to get us to feel good.”
The Cardinal travel to Santa Clara (3-0, 0-0 WCC) on Tuesday for the first of its midweek slate of games.