Again, UC-Davis breaks Stanford's heart, 4-2

Memo to the Athletic Department: never again schedule UC-Davis. Within the last three years, the Aggies have beat Stanford in basketball, football (infamously), and now five of their last six tries in baseball. Friday night, the Aggies hit Erik Davis for four runs in the seventh and pushed Stanford within one game of elimination in Regional play.

UC-Davis 4, Stanford 2

4. UC-Davis: 000 000 400 4R 8H 1E
1. Stanford: 100 100 000 2R 4H 0E

WP: Eddie Gamboa (7-3): 9 IP, 2 R, 4 H, 7 K, 2 BB
LP: Erik Davis (7-3): 8 IP, 4 R, 7 H, 5K, 2 BB

Key stretch:
Stanford started off the first with men on the corners and none out after second baseman Cord Phelps doubled and leftfielder Joey August reached on an error. But only one runner would score, as catcher Jason Castro, first baseman Brent Milleville and DH Randy Molina all grounded out.

Centerfielder Sean Ratliff's double in the fourth plated Molina from first, but then pinch-hitter Toby Gerhart (a strange substitution given Gerhart's offensive struggles this season and the fact that Gerhart, like Gamboa, is a righty) lined out to right, again squandering an opportunity to score multiple runs in an inning.

Erik Davis denied it postgame (and did shut down the Aggies in the eighth), but he looked to tire in the seventh, and the underdog visitors took advantage. No. 2 hitter Ty Kelly's single to left-center started the inning, catcher Jake Jefferies, UC-Davis' MVP, walked, and then leftfielder Ryan Scoma singled through the left side to score Kelly for the Aggies' first run. After a groundout and an intentional walk to load the bases, Evan Hudson's double put the Aggies up 3-2, and Matt Dempsey's suicide-squeeze bunt gave UC-Davis an insurance run.

Stanford went 1-2-3 in the seventh and eighth, so their best shot to come back came on Castro's leadoff walk in the bottom of the ninth. But then the Stanford fans slumped back into their seats as quickly as they has risen out of them, as Milleville unleashed sharp liner -- that was snagged mid-air by Kelly at third and whipped to first in time to nab Castro. Molina missed swinging to end the game, with Stanford's home-run leader Ratliff in the on-deck circle.

The heroes:
(2-for-4, one run) accounted for half of Stanford's hits.

Phelps' double and single, Randy Molina's single and Sean Ratliff's near-homer double high off the right-centerfield were all the Card managed off Gamboa , who truly was the player of the game. He went the full nine innings and struck out seven in the victory.

"Erik Davis pitched very well but Gamboa just pitched a little bit better," Coach Mark Marquess said. "He was on balance the whole night and came up with the big pitches when he needed to."

Meanwhile, Davis was perfect through three and gave up only a single hit in each of the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. He gets a mention in our heroes section if for no other reason than the passion with which he spoke in the post-game press conference:

"Don't count us out and don't count me out," the senior said with a stare. "I will battle. This is my last season and I won't go down without a fight."

If the Cardinal do the improbable and win four straight to take the Regional, you heard it first from Erik Davis. Davis, incidentally would likely pitch Monday, with Jeremy Bleich, Jeffrey Inman and Austin Yount starting the three games in between.

But I noticed Davis (the school) was hitting Davis (the pitcher) harder each progressive inning, so this isn't a case of 20-20 hindsight: I said at the time that Coach Mark Marquess should have subbed out his starter after six. Even if Marquess had relieved Davis after he started the seventh yielding a single, a walk and a RBI single in succession, Erik Davis would still have been in line for a win and we would be singing his praises unabashedly...

Tough day at the ballpark:
…Instead, the coaching staff asked for a little too much from Davis, given the contest's high stakes. Davis soldiered on in the seventh with an intentional walk followed by a two-RBI double and an RBI suicide squeeze bunt.

Remarkably, only after Hudson became Davis' fifth base runner of the inning with his game-winning double did the staff even send someone to warm up in the bullpen. I understand the need to conserve pitchers in a Regional, but foremost is the need to win games in a Regional, and make decisions to give your team the best odds of doing so.

Castro drew Stanford's only two walks, but was twice thrown out at first, on a pickoff in the sixth and, most critically, doubled-off on Milleville's lineout to third in the ninth. (Baseball truly is a game of inches: if Milleville's rope were three yards to the right, Stanford has two on with none out in the ninth, and quite possibly wins the contest.)

Previewing Stanford yesterday, we wrote this question would determine how close Stanford came to Omaha: "How will the bottom of the order fare? It's been up-and-down this season."

Alas, today was a down day for the seven through nine hitters , who went a combined 0-for-9. Google Maps doesn't lie: Omaha's 1,700 miles away, and right now, it feels every one of them.

Next up:
Stanford faces Arkansas at 1 p.m. Saturday in an elimination game. With a win, Stanford would then play until it lost at 1 p.m. Sunday, 5 p.m. Sunday and 1 p.m. Monday in what would be the Regional Final.

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