Cardinal ready for Super Regional

Stanford baseball advanced to the Super Regionals last weekend by beating Kansas State 10-3 on Friday, host Cal State Fullerton 1-0 on Saturday, and Illinois 14-2 on Sunday. The Card last advanced to the Super Regionals in 2008, when the squad also made the College World Series.

The Fullerton Regional swung on Saturday's tilt between the Card and Cal State Fullerton, the top two teams in the pod. There, two men were largely responsible for holding Fullerton scoreless: pitcher Jordan Pries, who pitched the first 7.2 innings with two hits and six strikeouts, and leftfielder Tyler Gaffney, whose controversial diving catch of Greg Valazquez's shot brought the fifth inning to a close with a runner stranded on base, thwarting one of Fullerton's best scoring chances of the day. Chris Reed earned the save, stranding a runner at third with an inning-ending groundout in the eighth.

On the other side of the ball, a sixth-inning Stephen Piscotty homer was all it took. Gaffney and Piscotty (two hits each) were the only Card to reach base against Fullerton pitcher Noe Ramirez, who struck out 12 and went the distance.

Against Illinois Sunday, the offense returned from its hibernation, with six Cardinal racking up multi-hit days, including an Austin Wilson homer and Ben Clowe's two homeruns. Clowe drove in four, with Wilson and Lonnie Kauppila adding three apiece, in a game Stanford led 5-1 after three and was never again threatened. Danny Sandbrink earned the win, yielding two runs in seven innings.

Stanford won the weekend-opener on the arm of Mark Appel, who allowed three runs on seven hits and struck out seven in a complete-game performance. Kansas State starter Kyle Hunter, meanwhile, earned the loss for yielding five runs in 4.0 innings. Stanford led 6-1 after five and 10-1 after seven, giving Coach Marquess the leeway to let Appel go the distance and save the bullpen for Fullerton and Illinois. Kauppila managed four of Stanford's 16 hits, while two Stanford batters were hit by pitches and the Card stole three bases to keep the runs coming in.

The task only grows more daunting now, as the Cardinal visit North Carolina, the No. 3 national seed, for a best-of-three series for a berth into the College World Series. Game times are noon Friday(ESPN2), noon Saturday(ESPN) and, if necessary, the Super Regional finale will be played Monday at a to be determined time.

The Tar Heels (48-14) haven't had a tough game in these playoffs yet, beating Maine 4-0 and James Madison 14- 0 and again 9-3 to advance to the Supers, with the following stats on the season:

TeamConfRecordPollsRPIBAERA
UNCACC48-147/102.2863.25
StanfordPac-1035-2021/2315.3023.40

That the Heels have racked up their stats in the ACC, one of the top conferences in all baseball, and that UNC has a stronger record than Stanford gives the Heels the edge on paper. Indeed, UNC's strength of schedule is third toughest nationally, while Stanford checks in at No. 18.

Additionally, the Heels have won 13 straight at home and are 34-3 in Chapel Hill on the season. Stanford, meanwhile, is 15-13 on the road, though the latest road win, 1-0 over CS-Fullerton, was in a pressure-packed, playoff game against a quality opponent, and will have to serve as the model if the Card is to make it out of Chapel Hill.

The Heels have only two batters above .301, Colin Moran (.335) and Tommy Coyle (.322), but make up for it in other ways offensively. The Heels have a superb 361-to-331 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and hit incredibly well for power, with 118 doubles, 24 triples(!) and 38 homers on the season.

The Heels have clear No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 pitchers. No. 1 is junior righty Patrick Johnson, 12-1 on the season with a 2.36 ERA. No. 2 is freshman lefty Kent Emauel, 7-1 with a 2.62 ERA. No. 3 is sophomore righty Chris Munnelly, 6-5 with a 4.11 ERA. Should the series go the distance, Stanford figures to see all those guys.

The College World Series, June 18-29 in Omaha, Neb., awaits the winner.


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