Texas chainsaw: Wicked pitching beats Card

Preseason play for the Stanford baseball team is by no means a leisurely break before the Pac-10 portion of the schedule comes around. Rather, for the first three weeks of the season, the Card has headed on the road to face top-20 teams. It adds up to a grueling preseason schedule, one that has pitted the young squad against some of the toughest pitching in college baseball.

Last weekend's series with No. 6 Texas was a prime example of that stellar pitching, with righthand junior Taylor Jungmann (3-0) kicking of the weekend by helping usher the No. 9 Card to a 4-3 loss on Friday night.

Jungmann was slated to be one of the top picks in the June MLB draft but chose to stay on the diamond in Austin for the Longhorns. He retired the first 14 Stanford batters on Friday and struck out nine, giving up three runs on six hits.

"He's tough," Coach Mark Marquess said. "He doesn't give you much. He doesn't walk anybody, and that's why he's one of the better pitchers in college baseball."

Rookie utility player Brian Ragira broke up Jungmann's perfect game in the fifth, with a two-out triple into the right-centerfield gap. Fellow freshman Lonnie Kauppila's looping single to center drove Ragira home, making Stanford the first opponent to score off Jungmann in his three starts and 22.2 innings of the 2011 season.

The Card's lead disappeared in the bottom of the fifth though, when Jordan Etier's two-out double put two runs on the board for Texas. Texas followed with two additional runs in the eighth, leaving Stanford down 4-1 heading into the ninth inning.

Sophomore shortstop Kenny Diekroeger drove in two to build some Cardinal momentum, but Corey Knebel picked up the save, stranding two runners to end the rally and the game.

Marquess recognized the efforts of sophomore righthander Mark Appel (0-2) in his duel with Jungmann, especially impressive as Appel is new to the Cardinal starting rotation this season.

"Mark did a good job," Marquess said. "He got a little tired in there and they got a couple of hits off him late, but I thought he pitched well for us."

"I pitched fine," Appel reflected. "Two or three pitches, and this is a different story. Obviously it's frustrating, but each time we come out here, we are getting better. I focus on each time out, and that's all I can do."

His teammates clearly adopted a similar mentality following the Friday night loss, as Stanford bounced back with a 9-2 victory over the Longhorns on Saturday, taking advantage of numerous Texas errors and riding on the arm of sophomore righthander Dean McArdle (2-0) who pitched seven shutout innings.

Before allowing one run in the eighth on two outs, McArdle's 7.2 inning start was a career-best, and he finished with one run on seven hits, with three walks and three strikeouts.

"I just wanted to throw strikes, especially after last week when I couldn't throw strikes at Vanderbilt," said McArdle. "It was two innings longer than I've ever gone before, but I was just serving them up there, the defense was making plays, and we put a ton of runs on the board."

Stanford's strong defense contrasted to Texas's generally lackluster fielding, as the Horns committed two errors in the first two innings to allow Stanford to gain an early 3-0 lead. The Cardinal bats were swinging at all the right times to take advantage of the sloppy fielding, with a pair of RBI doubles from sophomore center fielder Jake Stewart and sophomore utility Stephen Piscotty preceding errors that allowed for even more Stanford runs.

Piscotty delivered a second double in the fifth to extend the lead to 4-0, before multiple subsequent Texas errors and timely Stanford at-bats put the Cardinal ahead 9-0 in the eighth. Stewart, Piscotty, Diekroeger, and Kauppila each had multi-hit games in the team's 11-hit outing.

Stewart in particular has recently improved significantly at the plate.

"Stewart has been swinging the bat really well lately," Marquess said. "He gives us the speed tool, and he plays great defense in center."

Unlike several other members of the sophomore class who had stellar freshman seasons, Stewart played in 55 games last year but hit .209. He returned this fall as a top prospect out of the Alaska Summer League, and has already made huge strides—hitting safely in six of the first seven games and putting up a .367 average to show for it.

"Coming in as a freshman I was really tense, especially the first two weekends," said Stewart. "Having a year of experience under my belt has really helped me. I'm so much more relaxed up there, and that has helped so much."

In Sunday's series-concluding game with the Longhorns, however, Stewart and his teammates could not manage to spark any momentum with their bats, as Texas pitching held them scoreless over the first seven innings.

Sam Stafford (2-0) took the 4-2 win for Texas and limited the Cardinal to only three hits, while junior righthander Jordan Pries (2-1) gave up three runs on five hits to put Stanford in an early deficit.

Stanford kept hope alive by loading the bases in the eighth, just in time for Ragira's third hit of the day, which drove home the Card's only two runs. But double play ended Stanford's last good chance, sending the Cardhome with a close loss and a 1-2 record on the weekend.

With matchups against its toughest preseason opponents behind them, the Stanford men now head into a ten-day break for final exams before resuming play next Friday. Hosting Michigan should provide the Cardinal with an opportunity to tack on a few more wins and build on its No. 9 ranking, as well as gain some necessary experience on the home front.

First pitch against the Wolverines will be at 6 p.m. at Sunken Diamond.

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