After UT sweep, No. 24 baseball looks to UCSB

Coming off three straight losses to No. 3 Texas, the No. 24 Cardinal (5-3) continued its customarily tough early-season schedule with an exhibition versus Rikkyo University (Japan) on Tuesday and a mid-week contest at UC-Davis. This early portion of the schedule for the Cardinal will conclude with a three-game series with UC-Santa Barbara, starting today, Friday.

Rikkyo vs. Stanford

The Cardinal unofficially ended their three-game losing streak with a win against a scrappy Rikkyo University club. Ben Clowe, who earned a rare start in leftfield, had two extra-base hits, while six Stanford pitchers were able to shut down several Rikkyo rallies for the 4-2 victory. Freshman right-hander Elliot Byers, who started the game on the mound for the Cardinal, earned the win after pitching two innings and allowing one earned run on three hits.

Senior shortstop Jake Schlander did not play, missing his first game during his solid Stanford career. He was replaced by Kenny Diekroeger, who played his first Stanford career game at shortstop. Junior outfielder Dave Giuliani earned a rare start in centerfield, but struggled in three plate appearances. Freshmen Tyler Gaffney, Eric Smith and Justin Ringo all registered at least three plate appearances, while sophomores Scott Colton, Kellen McColl and Christian Griffiths all saw some action as well. Freshman pitchers Stephen Piscotty, Sahil Bloom and A.J. Talt, and senior right-hander Cory Bannister all saw their first action on the mound. Clearly, Coach Marquess took advantage of the exhibition by giving several freshman substantial playing time and allowing other players to gain experience at different positions.

Coach Marquess is already preparing for next year when the team will need a replacement for senior shortstop Jake Schlander. Barring a strong freshman recruit, Kenny Diekroeger might be the ideal replacement. Overall though, the player who positioned himself the best for a starting role was junior Ben Clowe, who looked very comfortable at the plate. In one of his at-bats, he drove a curveball over the left-fielder's head for a double, and eventually scored.

Rikkyo Baseball

Rikkyo University's team, which is from Ikebukuro, Tokyo, was in the middle of a five-game swing to various West Coast ball clubs, including USC, UC-Irvine and USF. This was a preseason campaign for them, as their regular season begins in April.

They used wooden bats and displayed a unique playing style during the exhibition. Before the game, one of their assistant coaches kindly summarized key aspects of Rikkyo University's baseball tradition and playing technique.

Rikkyo's baseball program is in its 101st year of existence, making it one of the oldest baseball programs in the world. Further, the team roster is comprised of 160 players, making it one of the largest rosters in the world. The team's hitting and pitching technique is similar to that of the Japanese baseball players in Major League Baseball. That is, batters utilize a high front-leg kick to time the pitch and left-handed batters seem to be running while they swing (think Ichiro Suzuki). Pitchers utilize a hitch at the beginning of their long, slow deliveries (think Hideo Nomo, though not as exaggerated). This technique is employed because, in the words of Assistant Coach Kaz, "Most pitchers tend to rush their deliveries. It is meant to slow down the delivery and generate more power."

Rikkyo's hitting style complemented their group of relatively small-statured players. Only one player stands taller than six feet, and he's just 6-foot-1. In comparison, Stanford's roster features 29 players over six feet tall. Rikkyo's starting shortstop, Sumiya Misawa, is only 5-foot-2, making him the shortest person on the team.

Overall, it was interesting to watch a competition between two teams with distinct philosophies. Rikkyo employed the hit-and-run and bunted more often, as they were unlikely to drive the ball out of the ballpark with their wooden bats. In response, Stanford's outfield played very shallow throughout the game. Stanford relied more on the extra-base hit (using aluminum bats) and was selectively aggressive on the base-paths.

Finally, senior right-handed pitcher Cory Bannister earned the save with 1.2 innings of scoreless work. He missed the entire 2009 season after undergoing successful "Tommy John" surgery. Both his fastball and curveball looked lively and he was very accurate, keeping the Rikkyo hitters off-balanced.

Stanford vs. UC-Davis

Stanford continued its winning ways with a 10-6 victory over UC-Davis (4-5) Thursday, after the game had been postponed a day for rain. The stars of the game were junior Ben Clowe, the designated hitter, who registered three hits, freshman third baseman Kenny Diekroeger, who hit a go-ahead grand slam in the top of the sixth, and freshman center-fielder Jake Stewart, who homered and tripled. The Cardinal added two more runs after the sixth inning, as the bullpen once again was able to hold off late opponent rallies and secure the game. Freshman righty Dean McCardle earned his first win after throwing two hitless, scoreless innings of relief.

UC-Santa Barbara

Stanford hosts UC-Santa Barbara (3-2) this weekend for a three-game series. The Gauchos, part of the Big West Conference, are coming off a 4-1 victory over Loyola-Marymount on Tuesday. Prior to that, they lost two out of three to San Jose State the previous weekend. Sophomore right-hander Jordan Pries (1-1, 4.85), who has settled in nicely as Stanford's Friday starter, will get the nod in the first game. The Stanford bullpen, which has been key in their two most recent victories, will likely play a huge role in this weekend's games. Other than the first two games of the season versus Rice, Stanford has had to use at least three pitchers in every game. Junior right-hander Alex Pracher (1-0, 3.68) leads the team in appearances with four, and has been solid so far out of the bullpen. Junior righty Danny Sandbrink (1-0, 7.71) has struggled in two appearances thus far. However, the righty was integral to Stanford's 2008 College World Series appearance and was solid last year, so there's reason to expect he'll bounce back. The Stanford offense will be led by its hottest hitters, including Ben Clowe (5-for-6 in his last two games), freshman phenom Kenny Diekroeger (.375 average), reliable leadoff man Colin Walsh (.500 on-base average), and the resurgent Jake Schlander (.333 average).

This will be Stanford's final series before a two-week layoff before hosting Pepperdine in a three-game series starting March 19th.

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Carlo Salcedo is a junior majoring in Communication and minoring in Economics. He broadcasts Stanford baseball games regularly for KZSU, Stanford's radio station and also plays for Stanford Club Baseball. Carlo enjoys getting to know the players and coaches, as well as being able to analyze the games from an objective perspective. His email is csalcedo@stanford.edu.


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