Baseball beats SCU, now tangles with UCLA

After a disappointing weekend series against Oregon State, the Stanford baseball team immediately faces a second chance to steal a few wins from one of the top teams in in the nation—No. 11 UCLA. The No. 26 Cardinal (17-12, 3-6 Pac-10) have looked forward this matchup since the season's outset.

Months ago, head coach Mark Marquess intentionally devised a rigorous preseason schedule to mentally and physically prepare for this particular series with the Bruins (20-12, 9-3 Pac-10). A victory for the Cardinal this weekend would be their first Pac-10 win in six games, as the team is currently endureing its longest losing streak in the conference since 2007. This is a stark contrast to the team's success in midweek games—Stanford has a perfect 8-0 record in non-weekend series games this year, and is hitting .336 as a team with 57 runs.

In fact, Stanford picked up another victory from Santa Clara on Tuesday to sweep the season series with the Broncos (14-19). In a resounding display of explosive offense, Stanford got 17 hits, winning 10-3. This was the first time in seven games that the Card reached double-digit hits, and it was a sharp turnaround from the rather stagnant hitting from the Oregon State series only a few days before.

Sophomore shortstop Kenny Diekroeger claimed the early lead for Stanford with a three-run home run in the first off of Joe Supple (0-3). It was his first homer since late February, and it was soon followed by a two-run homer by Patrick Perry.

Yet the Cardinal steadily increased the lead for the remainder of the game, starting with an RBI double in the second by freshman Lonnie Kauppila, who drove in three runs on the night. An RBI single by sophomore Jake Stewart in the fourth pushed the lead to 5-2, and a four-run eighth and a final run in the ninth gave Stanford an even 10 runs.

Diekroeger and Kauppila generated most of the offensive power, as Diekroeger drove in four runs with the first-inning homer and an RBI triple in the ninth, and Kauppila's two-out single in the eighth kept the Cardinal alive and led to sophomore outfielder Tyler Gaffney's two-run triple.

Several Stanford pitchers shared the pitching duties, with sophomore righthander Dean McArdle (5-2) earning the win for his three innings of work. Freshman reliever A.J. Vanegas threw a scoreless fifth, and junior Brian Busick made his season debut to strike out two and keep the Broncos scoreless through the sixth as well. Junior lefthander Scott Snodgress produced a crucial inning-ending strikeout in the eighth to leave the tying runs stranded, securing the victory for the Cardinal.

Last year the Card's outings with UCLA were intensely competitive, and Stanford was only one run away from winning the second series of the season when the Bruins were riding a 21-game winning streak and sat at No. 2 in the nation. This year, the Bruins are not quite as top-tier nationally, yet their prime pitching staff remains.

Marquess has noted since day one how essential pitching is, especially in the Pac-10.

"It's up to the pitching when it's all said and done," he said. "We have a blend; our pitching staff is a sophomore and junior staff. UCLA is the strong favorite because the best two pitchers in college baseball are juniors, and they're back at UCLA."

Righthanded pitchers Trevor Bauer (7-1, 1.47 ERA) and Gerritt Cole (4-3, 2.22 ERA) are two of the top arms in the country and major reasons for UCLA's No. 11 standing and 9-3 Pac-10 record. Bauer has remained solid all season, with 110 strikeouts and 23 walks over 73.2 innings, while Cole also has 75 strikeouts and only 11 walks in 65.0 innings.

Stanford is slated to put righthanders Mark Appel (2-4, 2.86 ERA), Jordan Pries (4-3, 3.26 ERA) and McArdle (5-2, 4.13 ERA) against the UCLA powerhouses. UCLA's Saturday pitcher will be Adam Plutko (2-3, 1.87 ERA), and the team's collective pitching staff has a 2.26 ERA which puts them first in the Pac-10.

"You can't give them anything, especially with those two starters," said Marquess of the Bruin rotation. "You're not going to score a lot of runs, so you have to take advantage of anything you can. We were able to beat them last year with timely hitting. You can beat them; you just can't give them anything."

Outfielder Beau Amaral should provide the most significant threat to the Stanford pitching staff, as the sophomore is currently batting .319 and leads the team in doubles (10) and steals (8). Appel in particular will need to be on top of his game on Thursday to open the series, but a tough matchup with Bauer will not be an entirely new challenge, as Appel has had plenty of experience this year dueling with some of the top starters in the nation.

He has lost three tight one-run games to top-10 teams already this season, so he is doing his part to keep the opposing runs to a minimum. If he and his fellow starters can maintain this small deficit and the Cardinal bats can stay hot, the end of the slump and the beginning of some serious momentum might be near.

The three-game Easter series with UCLA begins Thursday and continues through Saturday.

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