By Jeremy Rubin
Stanford baseball (10-2, 0-0 Pac-12) won its third straight series to open up the regular season, this time against UC Irvine (6-7, 0-0 Big West). After back-to-back victories on Friday and Saturday, the team dropped the second half of the Saturday doubleheader before rebounding in the series finale.
Senior Brendan Beck got the ball to open the series in the Friday afternoon contest, twirling 6.1 innings of scoreless baseball, scattering two hits and six walks while striking out eight. On the offensive end, the Cardinal chipped away, scoring once in the second, fourth, fifth and sixth, highlighted by home runs off the bats of junior designated hitter Vincent Martinez and senior first baseman Nick Brueser.
From there, the veteran duo of senior Austin Weiermiller and fifth year Zach Grech finished out the last 2.2 innings of play. Weiermiller gave up an RBI single in the eighth, but Grech closed the door in the ninth against the Anteaters to secure Stanford’s 4-1 victory and his fourth save of the year.
Late inning fireworks propelled the Cardinal to a 6-1 victory less than 24 hours later. After being held scoreless for five innings, an RBI double from senior center fielder Tim Tawa tied the game up at one. One inning later, a solo shot from Martinez and a three-run homer from freshman third baseman Drew Bowser gave the Cardinal a lead they would not relinquish. The scores allowed sophomore Quinn Mathews to move to 2-0 on the season on the mound. He kept Stanford in the game until the bats woke up in the sixth, finishing with eight innings pitched and just one blemish — a solo home run in the third.
“Beck and Quinn Matthews were excellent over the weekend,” said head coach David Esquer. “So that was big for us.”
A pair of freshmen got the starts for the latter two games of the series. Drew Dowd began the game on the mound in the second Sunday contest, while Brandt Pancer got the ball on Sunday.
Dowd battled for five innings and racked up seven strikeouts while giving up three runs, but earned the tough luck loss. The offense was able to muster up just one run, a double off the bat of sophomore right fielder Henry Gargus that scored Tawa.
“I think he had just better, better fastball command and he was throwing more strikes,” Esquer said of Dowd. “And was able to use his off speed pitches, and all those things were things that hadn’t been happening early on in the year whether it’s just nerves or pressing or just rust, you know just shaking off that — it’s a big jump to ask you hadn’t when you hadn’t pitched even your senior year of high school.”
“I thought we progressed a little on the mound, you know, some of our young pitching had struggled early on in the season,” Esquer continued. “And that’s just growing pains from not having fall practice and from them not pitching their senior year high school.”
The offense showed up the next day for Pancer, who threw a gem of an outing. He gave up just three hits and one run in six innings of work, as the offense piled on eight runs — headlined by a four-run second — during his time on the mound. Brueser, senior right fielder Christian Robinson and sophomore shortstop Adam Crampton collected two hits each and had a combined six RBIs. Despite shaky outings from freshman Tommy O’Rourke and Weiermiller in relief, Grech again closed the door in the eighth and ninth innings en route to an 8-6 Cardinal victory.
“Hey, we threw those freshmen right out in the middle of the swimming pool,” Esquer said of Dowd and Pancer. “And, you know, some struggled and rightfully so. But I think they step back and have done a lot better and we’re going to need them down the stretch and into the league.”
In addition to the strong freshman play, defense was critical to the weekend’s success. The team made just one error in the four games played.
“The defense was good,” Esquer said. “In particular, Adam Crampton has just played outstanding shortstop and really has just solidified the defense and has played calm and drama-free and that is so nice to have when you have a shortstop leading your defense that way.”
Offensively, it was more of the same from a team that has started the season red hot.
“It was a little bit of everybody,” Esquer said. “I thought we got some big hits from up and down the lineup. And obviously, Vincent Martinez had a couple of big swings for us and Drew Browser with a three run homer on Saturday to put the game away. And then [Sunday] was just kind of up and down the lineup.”
The strong pitching and defense, along with the still-potent offense, bodes well for the team, as next weekend is the Pac-12 season opener against Utah. Esquer did say, however, that “we’re not a finished product by any means, we still have some development to go.”
“Just kind of the growing pains,” he elaborated. “One thing that we have done, our coaches have done an unbelievable job of preparing them, and it’s just about getting them comfortable in the game. And, you know, hopefully you get us relaxed to be able to play loosely. And take that preparation onto the field.”
First pitch against Utah is set for Friday, March 19 at 6:05 p.m. PT, followed by 2:05 p.m. PT and 12:05 p.m. PT start times on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. All games will be at Sunken Diamond.
“The great thing is we’ve been winning while we’ve been developing but even with the two losses that we do have, I think we learned a lot about just how to approach baseball,” Esquer said. “We can’t take anything for granted.”