Ash Returns, But Stanford Still Loses

Third baseman Jonny Ash returned to the starting lineup tonight after missing the last month with an injury, but even three hits from the senior #2 hitter wasn't enough as the Cardinal fell by a 9-3 score to USC. Mark Romanczuk was roughed up on the mound as the sophomore lost for the first time in his career at Sunken Diamond. Meanwhile, despite Ash's positive return, the Cardinal offense lacked clutch hitting all evening.

Through the first two innings tonight, it looked as if Mark Romanczuk was rolling toward another effective start.  He retired the first six USC batters he faced over those two frames needing just 20 pitches to do so.  But things started to unravel for the sophomore lefty in the top of third as the Trojans struck for three runs to take a 3-0 lead.

A leadoff single from Billy Hart got things started.  Hart was then bunted to second while he moved to third on a ground out.  Leadoff batter Michael Moon was up next and the Trojan shortstop worked a tough 3-2 walk to put runners at the corners.  And then on the very next pitch thrown by Romanczuk, Jon Brewster smoked a home run over the wall in left to put USC in front, 3-0.

Stanford would quickly answer back though against SC ace starter Ian Kennedy in the bottom of the third.  With one out, Sam Fuld singled which was followed by a double off the bat of Jonny Ash.  Ash returned to the lineup tonight after missing one month (16 games) with a broken finger.  Ash's double set things up for Jed Lowrie and the Cardinal second baseman delivered with a single up the middle plating two.

However, Romanczuk continued to labor in the fourth and fifth innings as the Trojans extended their lead.  In the fourth, three straight singles from Joey Metropoulos, Baron Frost, and Hart produced a run.  Not a ton of solid contact off the southpaw, but the balls were finding holes.

Then in the fifth, Romanczuk allowed another big home run as Metropoulos unloaded a shot over the wall in left - a two-run blast - to make the score 6-2 USC.  This was especially painful as the slugging Metropoulos came up with two outs and first base open, but Romanczuk could not pitch effectively to the open bag as the Trojan first baseman connected on his eighth home run of the season.

Meanwhile, Stanford had plenty of opportunities to score against Kennedy in the first six innings tonight, but lacked the clutch hit.  The Cardinal had two on with one out in the first, but Danny Putnam and John Mayberry, Jr. were both retired to end the threat.  In the fourth, Donny Lucy led off with a single which was followed by a walk to Brian Hall.  But Lucy would eventually be thrown out trying to steal third on a botched hit-and-run which led to the end of the rally.

The fifth inning was another golden opportunity to cut into the USC lead.  A leadoff walk to Fuld started things off.  Then with two outs, Putnam singled and Mayberry, Jr. was hit by a pitch to load the bases.  Trailing 6-2 at the time, Lucy worked the count full against Kennedy, but would get jammed on an inside fastball as he rolled a groundball back to Kennedy on the mound for the third and final out.

Romanczuk kept the Trojans off the scoreboard in the sixth, but after a leadoff double and a fly out to begin the seventh, he was pulled from the game in favor of Jeff Stimpson.  Stimpson again struggled as he surrendered an RBI single to the first batter he faced, Blake Sharpe.  After a strike out, Stimpson hit Frost with a pitch and then Hart singled home another run.  Stimpson's brief and ineffective outing ended here as sophomore Pete Duda was summoned in to pitch.  Duda quickly retired the first batter he faced on a ground out to end the inning.

USC scored their ninth and final run of the game in the top of the eighth facing Duda.  Cyle Hankerd led off with a double and scored on Jeff Clement's two-out single.  That made the score 9-2.

Mark Jecmen came on in the ninth and continued to throw very well.  The junior right hander fired a perfect 1-2-3 inning recording two strike outs in the process.

Stanford had a chance to score in the seventh against the USC bullpen when they put runners at the corners with one out, but Putnam struck out and Mayberry lined out to left ending the inning.

The Cardinal would score a gift run in the bottom of the ninth when two Trojan errors eventually led to a sacrifice fly to center from Mayberry.  And not surprisingly, the game ended with more Cardinal runners being stranded on the base paths as Lucy flied out to right with guys at first and second to finish the contest.

Game Notes:
* One very big bright spot tonight was the return of senior third baseman Jonny Ash.  Ash hadn't played since injuring his finger in a game on April 20th, but you wouldn't have guessed it from his performance today.  He finished 3-for-5 with two doubles and a single.  The first-inning single was textbook Jonny Ash as he fouled off five two-strike pitches in an 11-pitch AB before lining the ball into center field.

* Lowrie (3-for-4, 2 RBI) and Fuld (2-for-4) also had multi-hit games tonight.  Lowrie increases his season batting average to a whopping .419.

* Putnam (1-for-5) extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a single in the bottom of the fifth.

* Romanczuk was roughed up for the second consecutive outing.  He allowed seven runs (all earned) on ten hits in 6 1/3 innings.  The sophomore walked two and struck out four.

* Romanczuk lost for the first time in his career at Sunken Diamond (16-1).

* Stanford left 12 runners on base tonight.  They hit 1-for-11 as a team with runners in scoring position.

* Stanford's 16-game home winning streak was snapped tonight.  Their only previous loss at home this season came way back on February 21st - a 9-6 defeat to current #2 Texas.

* The Cardinal remain 1/2 game behind Washington (one game ahead in the loss column) after the Huskies dropped a 3-1 decision to UCLA in Seattle.  Also of note, Arizona State knocked off Arizona 8-3 in Tucson in the first game of that series.  The updated standings: Washington (14-8), Stanford (12-7, 0.5 GB), Arizona State (11-8, 1.5 GB), UCLA (11-8, 1.5 GB).

USC          0 0 3  1 2 0  2 1 0   -   9  14   2
Stanford     0 0 2  0 0 0  0 0 1   -   3  10   0

WP: Ian Kennedy (7-2)
LP: Mark Romanczuk (10-2)

HR: USC - Joey Metropoulos (8), Jon Brewster (5)

Records: #1 Stanford (40-11, 12-7), USC (23-28, 9-10)

* The Cardinal and Trojans will continue this three-game series tomorrow afternoon at 1:00pm.  Jeff Gilmore (8-2, 4.89) is scheduled to start for Stanford while USC is expected to counter with right hander Bret Butler (4-3, 6.41).

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