Despite another dominant outing from freshman righty Tristan Beck, Stanford’s hitting vanished in the crisp April air at Sunken Diamond as the Cardinal (12-8, 2-2 Pac-12) dropped their season opener to USC (12-12, 3-1) in a 1-0 pitchers’ duel.
Low-scoring games like this one shouldn’t ever be a surprise on Fridays with the aces of the teams taking the mound to do battle, but this performance from USC came a little out of left field. USC ace Kyle Davis was sidelined for the opener and spot starter Joe Navilhon was handed the ball instead.
Navilhon did not pitch like a guy coming into the game with a 4.43 ERA, as he went six full innings and didn’t allow Stanford to cross the plate, striking out seven and walking just two. To the Cardinal hitters’ credit, they worked Navilhon deep into counts plenty of times and showed great plate discipline, but the USC righty was painting the corners too effectively for Stanford to make good contact on most of his pitches.
“Their pitching dominated us,” said head coach Mark Marquess. “We made a couple of good plays – threw a guy out at the plate and turned a double play and I'm really happy with Tristan – but we couldn't do anything with their pitcher."
Despite making Navilhon work for his outs, Stanford only mustered three hits on the evening and only squared the ball up a handful of times: a Tommy Edman flyout to the wall in left, a Quinn Brodey flyout to deep right-center, and Matt Winaker’s two-out triple down the right-field line in the sixth.
Even after Navilhon departed, USC relievers Jeff Paschke and Brooks Kriske didn’t allow a hit to Stanford in three combined innings of relief. Stanford only got runners in scoring position three times – every time, with two outs. The Cardinal never really had a realistic scoring threat in the game otherwise.
The struggles of the bats doomed the Cardinal on a night where the pitching did all it could to set Stanford up for the victory. Beck was tremendous again, mixing in stellar command of his sharp curveball with his pinpoint fastball accuracy to scatter just three hits and one run through 7.1 innings of work, striking out eight hitters while walking two.
“We've been using [the curveball] a couple more times these last few weeks and it's been having some success,” Beck said. “Regardless, I didn't put us in the situation we needed to be and I put the team behind the 8-ball. It's always tough to lose, especially to those guys.”
In the end, though, the freshman dropped to 4-2 on the season as the tough-luck loser, snapping a streak of wins in three consecutive outings. Tyler Thorne and Kris Bubic struggled out of the bullpen, allowing two hits and a walk – bailed out only by a stellar defensive play by Brodey and Nico Hoerner, who combined for a dazzling outfield assist to gun down Frankie Rios at the plate after Corey Dempster tripled into the right-field corner.
Colton Hock, who was shaky in the Cardinal’s loss at San Jose State on Monday, allowed two hits but got the outs that mattered, pitching 1.1 innings of shutout relief to preserve the 1-0 score and keep Stanford within striking distance until the very end.
Though the team as a whole didn’t get the desired outcome on Friday, Beck still stayed on track and even more firmly entrenched himself as the club’s Friday starter – and with the first few starts of his career already under his belt, he’s confident that he can keep up the stellar pitching.
"The team behind me is supporting me playing great defense, and I've been making the pitches I need to make,” Beck said. “We hope to ride this out and come back from this loss and hit our stride here at this point in the season."