By Jeremy Rubin
Stanford baseball (7-1, 0-0 Pac-12) brought out the brooms on Sunday, erupting for 15 runs against the University of San Francisco (4-8, 0-0 WCC) in a 15-13 win to finish off a four-game sweep of the Dons.
Every single Cardinal player in the lineup recorded a hit and the team finished with 20 total.
Freshman second baseman Tommy Troy led off the top of the first with a home run on the second pitch of the game, the first of his career. After a senior center fielder Christian Robinson walk, sophomore left fielder Brock Jones hit another homer to right center. RBI singles from senior first baseman Nick Brueser and Robinson, along with a sacrifice fly from sophomore shortstop Adam Crampton, gave the Cardinal a seven-run lead before they stepped foot in the field.
Junior catcher Vincent Martinez finished the day with a team-high four hits in seven at-bats to go along with three runs scored, 2 RBI and his first collegiate home run — a solo shot in the second. Jones’ second long ball of the game one inning later gave Stanford four homers on the day through just three innings of play.
This offensive onslaught was nothing new for a Cardinal team that has scored at least seven runs in all but two games this season. Through eight games this year, the Cardinal has 63 runs, 30 extra base hits — 14 of which have been home runs — and a collective .289 batting average as a team.
In the entirety of last year’s 16-game season, Stanford scored 47 runs, hit 33 extra base hits and had a team batting average of .207.
The difference, according to head coach David Esquer, has been the “365 days in between.”
“It was just we were painfully young and painfully inexperienced a year ago,” Esquer said. “And it was something that we saw coming when I took the job. So it was just going to be just a period of growth and now that these players are a year older, they’re just a lot more comfortable.”
Last year’s starting lineup included seven freshmen, who now have had an additional year of development and training, as well as additional acclimation to the high-level of Pac-12 baseball.
One example of this dramatic improvement can be seen in Jones, who so far in 2021 has doubled his on-base slugging percentage from .639 in 2020 to 1.282 in 2021, and has 11 hits, including two doubles, one triple and five home runs, through eight games. His home run tally and OPS pace the team, and he was named Collegiate Baseball’s National Player of the Week last week for his impressive start to the year.
“He’s worked really hard,” Esquer said. “He had to make a difficult decision between football and baseball in the offseason and dedicated himself to baseball, so he’s just been able to take more reps and that probably has led to his comfort level.”
“As crazy as it sounds, as good as he’s been so far, he can be so much better and he’s going to be so much better as he gets more comfortable with playing,” Esquer added.
However, as the team’s 15-run performance and four-game sweep against the Dons showed, Stanford’s 7-1 start to the season has been anything but a one-man show.
“I think I think at some point everybody has done something to help us win,” Esquer said. “Christian Robinson comes to mind who’s come out and played great for us and [senior] Tim Tawa as well, and we’ve gotten contributions from virtually everybody in the lineup.”
“[Sophomore] Kody Huff got off to a hot start hitting the number four hole which has been a great addition for us,” Esquer continued. “Just up and down the lineup, whether it’s the freshmen Tommy Troy and Drew Bowser chipping in or Vincent Martinez who came back strong and ready to play, he’s been able to help us on the offense as well. And hey, we’ve got a number of players who have had yet to play, but we think are going to be good players and be able to help us at some point during the year as well.”
In many ways, while the hitting has shown dramatic growth from last year to this one, pitching is now the side of the game that is younger and more inexperienced for the Cardinal.
“With pitchers like [junior] Alex Williams and [senior] Jacob Palisch and [junior] Cody Jensen being out for a little bit, that has put a little bit more pressure on our freshmen,” Esquer said. “And we saw last year when we have to rely on them there’s going to be a period of growth that’s necessary, so it’s growing pains for sure.”
In the same 15-13 Cardinal win, Stanford’s 11-run lead heading into the bottom of the fourth evaporated by the time the team returned to the dugout. Four Cardinal pitchers — starting pitcher and freshman Drew Dowd, sophomore Nathan Fleischli, redshirt sophomore Justin Moore and redshirt senior Jonathan Worley — were needed in the one inning as the team gave up 11 runs through a combined three hit-by-pitches, walk four and four hits.
A RBI hit-by-pitch for Huff and RBI singles from Crampton and Brueser in the sixth, seventh and eighth gave Stanford the cushion it needed to hang on for the win.
Despite the shaky start at times, Esquer has confidence in his younger arms.
“We believe in their talent. That’s why they’re here,” Esquer said. “They’re going to be outstanding. It’s just Division 1, Pac-12 college baseball. It’s just not that easy to jump in and hit the ground running so hey, we’re gonna stay with them and help them along the way.”
Freshman Brandt Pancer, for example, has four strikeouts in his four innings of work so far and his 2.25 ERA is the best in his class. Esquer said he’s “come out and given us some quality innings” along with his more proven pitchers.
“Obviously [seniors] Brendan Beck and Austin Weiermiller have been great,” Esquer said. “And [fifth year] Zach Grech has been solid and some of the returnees have done a great job for us. We just need to fill in some of those other spots with some young freshmen who are basically getting a crash course in college baseball, right. Many of them have only been on campus here since February 1st.”
Beck has started two games for the Cardinal, including a 6.1-inning, nine-strikeout performance to open the season. He’s formed a dangerous 1-2 punch with sophomore Quinn Mathews, who has a sparkling 1.59 ERA and .135 batting average against in his 11.1 innings of work.
Out of the pen, Weiermiller and Grech have combined to allow just one run in 17.1 collective innings of work while striking out 24. At least one of the two has been called in relief in every single win for the team this season, and, in all but one case, they’ve been relied on for more than one inning.
Between Weiermiller, Grech and junior Alex Williams, “that gives us three pretty good options towards the end of the game, both left handed and right handed,” Esquer said.
Stanford’s final series before Pac-12 play will be this weekend against UC Irvine. First pitch for game one will be on Friday, Mar. 12 at 2:05 p.m. PT, and the team will play a doubleheader on Saturday and one final contest on Sunday. All games will be at Sunken Diamond.