Omaha Bound!

For the fifth straight year, the Stanford Cardinal baseball team is headed to Omaha, Nebraska and the College World Series. On Saturday evening, the Cardinal was on the winning end of a 4-2 game against Long Beach State to sweep the Super Regional series. Mark Romanczuk tossed 8 1/3 solid innings to record the victory while Danny Putnam's clutch hit in the seventh proved to be the difference. Here is a complete recap.

The Stanford Cardinal are headed to Omaha, Nebraska and the College World Series for the fifth consecutive season after their 4-2 win on Saturday evening over Long Beach State at Sunken Diamond.  The Cardinal trailed 2-1 until they pushed across three runs in the top of the seventh keyed by Danny Putnam's, two-out, two-run single.  On the mound, National Co-Freshman of the Year Mark Romanczuk improved his record to 12-0 with 8 1/3 solid innings of work while Matt Manship recorded his team-leading ninth save of the year.

Today's starting pitching matchup pitted Romanczuk against Jered Weaver of Long Beach State.  Weaver entered the game with a 14-3 record and a remarkable 1.99 ERA.  In 126 2/3 innings pitched, Weaver had issued just 19 walks while recording 139 strikeouts for a remarkable 7.3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.  

The Cardinal, who were the designated visiting team, had a great chance to score in the second when Putnam led off with a double and then moved to third on a Chris Carter ground out.  After Jed Lowrie walked though, the bottom of the order couldn't come through as Brian Hall popped out to shallow right and Tobin Swope struck out looking.

The 49ers scored first in tonight's game on an Adam Heether solo homer to lead off the bottom of the second.  After Heether's blast, Brad Davis and Mike Hofius both singled to put two runners on with none out.  But Romanczuk did a great job to get out of the jam getting a groundout and a double play to end the inning and keep the score at 1-0.

After Stanford went down without much of a fight in the top of the third, the 49ers got back on the scoreboard with a single run in the bottom half of the inning.  Todd Jennings led off with a single and was bunted to second.  Jennings would later score when Heether delivered a clutch two-out single.  The inning ended without further damage, but Romanczuk had already given up two runs on seven hits while throwing 60 pitches in the process.

Meanwhile, the Cardinal weren't having much luck against Weaver.  The sophomore righthander set down the Cardinal in order in the top of the fourth as the score remained 2-0 Long Beach.  The only good news for Stanford was that they were forcing Weaver to go deep into many counts.  Through four innings, the All-American had already thrown 67 pitches.

Finally Stanford got to Weaver with a run in the top of the fifth.  With one out, Swope singled and then moved to third on a Sam Fuld bloop single into shallow left center.  After Jonny Ash flied out to shallow left, Carlos Quentin ripped a single into left to score Swope with Stanford's first run of the game.  Ryan Garko though would strike out swinging to end the inning.

The Cardinal were retired 1-2-3 in the sixth, but it was still a stressful inning for Weaver.  Two more full counts brought Weaver's pitch count to 98 through six.  By this time, Romanczuk was in cruise control as the freshman southpaw worked a 1-2-3 fifth and then put up another zero in the sixth while allowing just one harmless single.

Then came an eventful seventh inning.  With two outs and nobody on, Fuld hit a grounder right at LBSU shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.  Tulowitzki bobbled the ball and then rushed his throw to first which proved costly as it was low and bounced past first baseman Mike Hofius.  Fortunately for The Beach, catcher Todd Jennings raced to back up the throw which kept Fuld at first.  Stanford though may have caught a break on the play as TV replays showed Fuld taking a couple steps toward second after he saw the ball bounce past the first baseman.  A good acting job by Fuld though and the fact that the first base umpire was watching Jennings, instead of Fuld, kept the inning alive for the Cardinal.

After Fuld stole second, Ash lined a single into left field.  Left fielder Josh Buhagiar was playing very shallow though so third base coach Dean Stotz put up the stop sign for Fuld as he rounded third.  But Fuld ran right through it and scored on the play when LBSU third baseman Adam Heether inexplicably cut the ball off.  

So with the game now tied at 2-2, Ash promptly stole second base.  While it may have seemed like an ordinary play, it was in fact, Ash's first stolen base of his career.  With Ash at second, Quentin, on a 3-and-2 pitch, hit a check-swing roller in between the pitcher's mound and first base and beat out the play at first with a headlong dive.  With Ryan Garko at the plate and runners on the corners, Long Beach then made a pitching change as Weaver was pulled in favor of closer Carlos Muniz.  While this move may have seemed a bit strange, Weaver's pitch count was at 123 and Long Beach Head Coach Mike Weathers explained in the postgame news conference that that is the around the limit for any pitcher on the team, no matter the situation.  

So then Muniz promptly walked Garko on four pitches to load the bases for Danny Putnam.  The sophomore leftfielder then came through with the biggest hit of his Stanford career thus far as he smoked a single up the middle on a 2-and-1 pitch to score Ash and Quentin for a 4-2 Cardinal advantage.

Romanczuk continued to roll through the later innings tossing a 1-2-3 seventh and a scoreless eighth with just one single allowed.  In the bottom of the ninth, Romanczuk retired the first batter of the inning before hitting Chuck Sindlinger with a pitch to bring the tying run to the plate.  That ended Romanczuk's evening as closer Matt Manship was brought into pitch.  Long Beach countered with a pinch-hitter as John Bowker (who led the team in homers with seven, but doesn't start against lefties) came on to hit.  Manship got Bowker to ground out weakly to shortstop for the second out of the inning.  Next up was leadoff hitter and second round draft pick Todd Jennings and Manship appeared to not want any part of him as he walked Jennings on five pitches to put runners on first and second.  #2 hitter Josh Buhagiar (.302, 0 homers) was up next and on the first pitch, Buhagiar hit a high chopper to Lowrie at second who calmly threw him out at first to end the game and send the Cardinal to the College World Series.

Game Notes:
* Romanczuk was the story on the mound today as he out dueled All-American Jered Weaver to improve to 12-0 on the year.  The freshman lefty went 8 1/3 innings while giving up two runs on ten hits.  He didn't walk anyone while recording two strikeouts.

* At the plate, Danny Putnam finished 2-for-4 with two huge RBI.

* Carlos Quentin was the only other Stanford player with a multi-hit game as he went 4-for-5 with an RBI.

* Weaver ended up going 6 2/3 innings allowing four runs (only one earned) on eight hits.  He walked one and struck out five.

* Stanford has now won nine games in a row and 18 of 19.  They've also now won 11 consecutive postseason home games which goes back to the super regionals in 2001 against South Carolina.  Since the new tournament format started in 1999, Stanford is an amazing 26-4 at Sunken during the postseason with five straight trips to the CWS.

* Speaking of the Gamecocks, it will be Stanford versus South Carolina on Friday (time still to be determined) at Rosenblatt Stadium in the first round of the CWS.  The winners of LSU-Baylor tomorrow and Cal State Fullerton-Arizona State will complete Stanford's side of the CWS bracket.

Stanford          0 0 0  0 1 0  3 0 0   -   4   9   2
Long Beach State  0 1 1  0 0 0  0 0 0   -   2  10   1

WP: Mark Romanczuk (12-0)
LP: Jered Weaver (14-4)
S: Matt Manship (9)

HR: Long Beach State - Adam Heether (6)

Records: #4 Stanford (46-15), #7 Long Beach State (41-20)

* As stated above, it will be Stanford versus South Carolina on Friday at the College World Series.  First pitch will either be at 11:00am or 4:00pm (PST).

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