Baseball wins three of four, now visits WSU

As the Stanford baseball team powered through its tough preseason schedule, the anticipation for the upcoming Pac-10 season was constantly building. Head coach Mark Marquess and his young players put together an 11-6 record in its preliminary games against some of the top teams in the nation while striving to develop a rhythm that would carry over in to conference play.

Now poised to take on Washington State (10-10, 0-3 Pac-10) in this weekend's series in Pullman, the Card hopes to reflect on the past month, put it all together, and kick off the season with a sweep of the Cougars.

The past week has been up-and-down for Stanford, as the team dropped last Friday's game to Long Beach State, handily defeated the Dirtbags in the remaining two games of the series, and then narrowly closed out a messy win over St. Mary's on Tuesday. The weekend series with Long Beach was the first of the year at Sunken Diamond, as the team recently took an extended 15-day break due to final exams and weather-related cancellations.

Despite the Friday night 3-6 loss to the Dirtbags, Marquess noted that "because of the rain and finals, it was good to play."

Still, the game wasn't the Cardinal's most stellar showing, especially when the team fell behind 6-0 in the first four innings. Sophomore righthander Mark Appel (1-3) gave up the six runs on 10 hits, and the offense was unable to compensate, leaving 12 runners on base for the evening. Stanford made several advances and created multiple prime scoring opportunities, but Long Beach pitcher Andrew Gagnon managed to work his way out of the jams and leave the Cardinal runners stranded.

Stanford bounced back on Saturday, however, evening the series with a solid 6-1 victory. Junior righthander Jordan Pries (3-1) struck out seven and gave up only one unearned run on five hits in seven innings. Pries improved throughout the course of the game and demonstrated clear dominance over opposing pitcher Branden Pinder, whom the Cardinal offense attacked right from the start.

Sophomore shortstop Kenny Diekroeger produced an RBI single in the first, followed by another from freshman utility Brian Ragira to give Stanford the early 2-0 lead. Both Diekroeger and Ragira had multiple hits in the game and helped stretch the lead to 5-1 by the fifth, chasing Pinder from the game.

Sophomore outfielder Tyler Gaffney's two-out double in the fifth was also key, and the two-sport athlete's pair of RBIs is representative of the tremendous progress he's already made this season.

"I've been slumping lately," Gaffney said of his batting before the team's 15-day layoff. "Things weren't going my way, but I've been working a lot with the coaches in the cages, and that's how the change came about."

"It was nice to see him get the big hit and get on base," Marquess said of Gaffney. "He can really make us go, so I was really glad to see that."

The Stanford bats were active in the third and final game of the series as well, though the 6-5 win wasn't quite as resounding as Saturday's. The Card had to rely more heavily on the relief pitching of junior lefthander Chris Reed.

The Dirtbags produced an explosive first inning, posting four runs against sophomore Dean McArdle. Stanford answered though, as sophomore Stephen Piscotty kicked off a rally of four straight singles, and the Card took advantage of two errors from Long Beach third baseman Michael Hill to take a 5-4 lead in the third. Another error from Hill pushed the score to 6-5 in the sixth.

The responsibility to clinch the Stanford win was then handed to Reed in the seventh, who entered the game with the tying runner at third. Reed escaped the jam, forcing a strikeout and flyout to close the inning. He then followed with perfect eighth and ninth innings. Twenty-one of his 27 pitches were strikes, with four strikeouts in his 2.2 innings. The outstanding performance earned the series win for Stanford and set the team up to face Saint Mary's on Tuesday for the final round of the homestand.

In the wildest game thus far this season, the team narrowly survived several huge rallies from the Gaels and earned a 16-14 victory. The seventh inning in particular was highlighted by tremendous offensive efforts from both teams, as Saint Mary's sent twelve men to the plate and scored seven runs, before Stanford countered and posted six runs on the board.

The Card left the seventh with a 16-9 lead, but four errors in the ninth plated five additional Gael runners and put Stanford in a vulnerable position as the game wound down. Fortunately, junior lefthander Scott Snodgress struck out the go-ahead run to secure the save in the game that marked season-highs for runs (16), errors (six) and hits (19) for the Cardinal.

Thus, Stanford now sits at No. 11 in the nation, armed to open up the Pac-10 season with Washington State this weekend. Righthanders Appel (1-3, 4.23 ERA), Pries (3-1, 2.28) and McArdle (3-0, 2.89) are slated to step on the mound Friday, Saturday, and Sunday's games, respectively.

Offensive star Matt Argyropoulos, currently batting .373 with 14 runs, leads the Cougars, yet the team's .289 average suggests the Cardinal pitching staff should have a relatively easy go of it.

The series could be particularly special for Marquess, who currently has 1,398 career wins. With two wins, he would become the sixth coach to surpass that milestone at the Division I level.

First pitch is on Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Bailey-Brayton Field.

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