Cardinal baseball gearing up for postseason

The Stanford baseball team has nearly reached the end of its regular season and is set to face rival California for the final series before postseason play. The No. 24 Card (30-20, 12-12 Pac-10) now maintains a .500 record in the conference after taking two wins from No. 27-ranked Arizona (33-19, 12-12 Pac-10) this weekend but falling 3-1 to Cal Poly in the Cardinal's home finale.

Last week, Stanford's sole midweek matchup against USF was cancelled, so the squad hosted Arizona having played no games since the previous weekend. Though the Card didn't produce dynamic hitting displays in any of the games with Arizona, they still managed to edge by the Wildcats and take the series win.

Friday's game was particularly tense. It ended with freshman pinch hitter Brett Michael Doran's two-out single off the left field wall in the 11th to break a scoreless tie and give the Cardinal a 1-0 win. Yet, the offense was mostly stagnant throughout, and Stanford had only three singles through the first six innings off starter Kurt Heyer.

Heyer had 10 strikeouts against the Stanford lineup and scattered four hits, with not one Cardinal runner getting to second until freshman first baseman Brian Ragira poked a double to lead off the seventh. Stanford was not able to capitalize, however, and followed with two fly outs to end the inning.

Sophomore righthander Mark Appel (4-6) threw eight-plus scoreless innings for the Card and tied his career-high of nine strikeouts before turning the ball over to Chris Reed (5-2), who pitched three perfect innings to earn the win.

It wasn't always smooth sailing for Appel, however. Arizona had several chances to score, including the third inning, when sophomore third baseman Stephen Piscotty saved a run with a fielder's choice and threw home. Senior catcher Zach Jones then caught a runner stealing to end the inning.

The Wildcats had several scoring opportunities again in the sixth and the eighth, but Appel worked out of the jams by forcing a double play and multiple strikeouts. Arizona's reliever Bryce Bandilla (4-2) was not able to achieve the same success, and he took the loss after loading the bases with two walks and a hit by pitch on two outs. Matt Chaffee then took over to face Doran, who sent sophomore center fielder Tyler Gaffney home on his game-ending double.

The low scoring game was uncharacteristic of both sides, as Arizona entered the series batting .326 to lead the Pac-10, and Stanford followed right behind with a conference second-best .306.

In line with those season averages, the bats came alive on Saturday, particularly for the Wildcats, who topped Stanford 7-3 to even the series.

Arizona didn't gain an advantage until the fifth, when an RBI double from Bobby Rinard and an RBI single from Alex Mejia pushed the lead to 2-0, accounting for the first Wildcat runs of the series. Josh Garcia's homer in the sixth added two more and put Arizona up 4-0, a deficit that Stanford wasn't able to overcome.

Righthander Kyle Simon (10-3) started for the Wildcats and pitched five scoreless innings before running into trouble in the eighth. He exited the game when five consecutive Cardinal batters reached base and narrowed the gap to 7-3. However, reliever Matt Chaffee picked up his seventh save of the season, stranding three runners in the eighth and closing out the night with a perfect ninth.

Senior righthander Danny Sandbrink (3-1) took the loss for the Card, despite retiring seven in a row during the middle stretch of the game and allowing only five hits through six innings. Though he started off strong and pitched to one over the minimum throughout the first four innings, he gave up a single by Robert Refsnyder to lead off the fifth, which generated the Wildcats' offensive momentum for the rest of the game.

Stanford's three runs were products of a sacrifice fly by Gaffney in the sixth and RBI's by Piscotty and freshman right fielder Austin Wilson in the eighth. Gaffney's bunt base hit in the eighth extended his hit streak to 13 games. (Gaffney would extend that streak to 14 the next day).

The third and final game of the series ended in another intense come-from-behind win for Stanford, as Wilson drove in the go-ahead run in the last Cardinal at bat of the night.

Wildcat Konner Wade kept Stanford scoreless through 6.1 innings despite allowing seven. Bandilla then walked Jones to start off the eighth, who soon scored on a hit and run by Gaffney. Piscotty followed with a single to bring closer Chaffee on to the mound, and he forced a pop fly before surrendering the 2-1 pitch to Wilson that was driven to left field and secured the win for the Card.

Junior righthander Jordan Pries stuck it out during the first seven innings for Stanford, giving up only one run on a solo shot from Jett Bandy in the second to put Arizona up 1-0. Pries allowed seven total hits with six strikeouts, and Reed (6-2) retired the final five batters of the night to win the series for the Cardinal.

The momentum of a series win against a highly ranked opponent didn't last long, however, as Stanford fell 3-1 to visiting Cal Poly two days later. The Mustangs broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth inning on a solo home run by Chris Jensen, and extended their lead to 3-1 on a safety squeeze.

The Cardinal threatened multiple times in the late innings, but Cal Poly reliever Frankie Reed shut the door with a two-out save.

In the loss, Gaffney extended his hitting streak to 15 games, while Ragira's 10-game streak ended.

It won't get any easier for the Card this weekend when they take on No. 23 Cal (30-18, 13-11 Pac-10) in the final series of the year. Stanford has already defeated the Bears twice this season, with the first non-conference 3-2 win in late February and the second 9-5 win a month ago. This time, however, Cal has the edge in the national rankings, as well as home-field advantage.

Former Stanford great David Esquer leads the Bears club, which is highlighted by all-conference infielder Tony Renda, who leads the team with a .329 average and 38 RBIs. The Bears' true strength is on the mound, however, as the team maintains the second-best ERA in the Pac-10 (2.82). They're led by weekend starter and Los Altos High grad Erik Johnson (6-2), who has a 1.94 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 83.2 innings. Reliever Kyle Porter has also had a fine season, compiling 4-0 record and 1.87 ERA over 22 games.

Recently though, Cal has been struggling and has dropped two of its last three Pac-10 series. Its lone conference series win through the last month was against Oregon three weeks ago.

The first pitch against Cal Poly will be Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at Sunken Diamond, and the Memorial Day series at Cal will begin this weekend with a game on Friday at 2:30 p.m., followed by a doubleheader starting at noon on Saturday.

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