Stanford Baseball is out to a red hot start this season. After sweeping a Rice team that was ranked #5 in the preseason AP rankings, Stanford defeated Pacific on Wednesday, 11-5, bringing their record to 4-0. Stanford is ranked #18 by both Collegiate Baseball and USA Today; in the preseason Stanford was #26 by Collegiate Baseball and #25 by USA Today.
With a spring swagger in their step the Cardinal enter an early season showdown with the Texas Longhorns. The Longhorns began the season as the #1 ranked team in NCAA baseball, only to stumble out of the gate with two losses to New Mexico in their first series of the season.
The Cardinal return a solid core of players from last year's team. The Cardinal defense figures to be superb up the middle, led by a trio of juniors: shortstop Jake Schlander, last year's Pac-10 defensive player of the year, second baseman Colin Walsh, who led last year's team with a .320 batting average, and catcher Zach Jones, who is off to a torrid start this season with two home runs in four games. Walsh picked a prime time to hit his first collegiate home run Wednesday, a grand slam to put the Card up 8-5 over Pacific. The game saw five lead changes until his 6th inning blast.
Right fielder Kellen Kiilsgaard and first baseman Jonathan Kaskow are two more juniors in the starting lineup. Last season Kiilsgard was named first team Pac-10 and Baseball America says Kiilsgard has the strongest outfield arm in the Pac-10. Kaskow drove in runs in all three games vs. Rice.
Stanford's rotation will be anchored by sophomores Jordan Pries, Brett Mooneyham, and Scott Snodgress who combined to make 27 starts last season. All three are scheduled to start in this weekend's series.
What has been ignored so far? The Stanford freshmen. The Cardinal's recruiting class was rated #2 nationally by Baseball America. Third baseman Kenny Diekroger, centerfielder Jake Stewart, and Stephen Piscotty have started every game with each player bringing something real special to the field. Diekroger hit a game winning walk-off single in only his third game at the collegiate level. He is rated as the top California player of 2010. Drafted in the 2nd round by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Diekroger is the highest drafted position player to enroll in a four-year college. Jake Stewart will be one of the fastest players on the field every day he puts on his spikes. He flashed his glove in center field on a graceful, run-saving catch in the game against Pacific. The third freshman in the starting lineup is the versatile Stephen Piscotty. Piscotty has started every game in left field, played third base in high school, has taken reps at first base, and is a solid pitcher having thrown a complete game shutout in a prep school playoff game.
In terms of incoming pitchers Baseball America wrote, "This class is big and projectable, led by (6-5) Mark Appel, who can reach 94 with a sinking fastball and has a promising power breaking ball. (6-7) Chris Jenkins has massive size and arm strength but is extremely raw, while (6-8) Garrett Hughes has some feel for a mid-80s fastball and a good curve but has yet to see his velocity jump. (5-10) Dean McArdle is undersized but electric, with a 90-92 mph fastball and good feel for a sharp curve."
Despite their early struggles the Longhorns will undoubtedly pose a challenge to this young Cardinal team. Three Longhorns were named to the preseason Golden Spikes Award Watch List released by USA Baseball. Taylor Jungmann, Cameron Rupp and Brandon Workman were among the 50 names on the preseason watch list for an award which features the top 50 players in amateur baseball. Jungmann is the Longhorn's ace and is slated to start the first game of the series. In 2009 he was a Freshman All-American sporting an even 2.00 ERA and an 11-3 record.
No matter the outcome of this series, the Cardinal faithful have reason to be excited by this year's team. The solid nucleus of athletes returning from last year's team and the infusion of talent coming from the best recruiting class in recent history has Stanford looking to return to Omaha for the 26th time in legendary head coach Mark Marquess' 34th season at the helm of the Cardinal.
Of note: Star running back Toby Gerhart, who continued in the long lineage of great Stanford two-sport student athletes (quarterback John Elway and coach Mark Marquess), has graduated and is preparing for the jump to the NFL. He is rooming with former Texas Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy. Gerhart finished second and McCoy finished third in this year's Heisman vote, the closest margin between first, second, and third in the storied trophy's history.
At the time of this publishing, Stanford fell to the Longhorns in the first game of the series 6-0. Taylor Jungmann lived up to the hype pitching seven scoreless innings and striking out 10. Jordan Pries pitched a fine game until the fifth inning when an error and two hits loaded the bases for Longhorns right fielder Kevin Keyes. Keyes hit a grand slam which put the Horns up 5-0. Catcher Zach Jones went 2-4 and stole a base.
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