On a sunny, 75-degree day in Fullerton, the only region in which the elimination game featured a No. 1 seed versus a No. 2 produced a dandy, with the Titans surviving a few late-inning Cardinal (31-25) rallies to end Stanford's season.
Sophomore righties Noe and Nick Ramirez (no relation) combined to throw a solid game, with Noe, arguably the Titans' best pitcher this season, pitching into the ninth inning and allowing five runs, four earned, on nine hits with eight strikeouts and one walk. Nick, who had been playing first base and went 1-for-4 in the game, replaced Noe in the ninth after Tyler Gaffney singled. He recorded three outs, including Ben Clowe's groundout with the tying run, Gaffney, on second base, earning his 10th save.
For the second straight game, Gaffney led off the game with a home run to left field. Stanford's Brett Mooneyham, who had been arguably Stanford's best pitcher late in the season, ran into some trouble early on. In the second inning, Nick Ramirez drove in Tyler Pill on a double to left center field to tie the game. Then in the third, CSF shortstop Christian Colon, who will likely be a first-round pick in Monday's Major League Baseball Draft, drove a Mooneyham pitch over the left field fence. The two-run homer gave the Titans a 3-1 lead.
Stanford threatened in the top of the fourth but ran into some bad luck which prevented them from scoring. After Clowe and Kenny Diekroeger reached base, Coach Marquess elected for designated hitter Eric Smith to try to bunt the first pitch from Noe Ramirez. Smith fouled it off, which allowed for Ramirez to get ahead in the count. He struck out Smith with two straight off-speed pitches. It was a questionable call by Marquess, considering that Smith been swinging the bat well recently (8-for-22 in his last seven games, in addition to the fact that bunting has been proved as a statistically inferior strategy to letting batters hit with zero out and runners on first and second). After Jake Schlander flied out to right field, Jonathan Kaskow smoked a line drive, but right at the second baseman Matt Orloff to end the inning.
Stanford was fortunate to score one run in the fifth inning, which made the score 3-2 in favor of the Titans. With two outs, Colin Walsh hit a relatively routine fly ball to left field, but Casey Watkins seemed to misjudge it, as it hit off of his glove and allowed Walsh, who was hustling out of the batter's box, to reach third base. Then, Stephen Piscotty singled to center, his first of four RBIs on the day. If anything, the inning also forced Ramirez to throw several more pitches, though he was not yet showing signs of fatigue.
However, the Titans responded in the bottom of the fifth with two runs. Mooneyham got into two consecutive three-ball counts to against Joey Siddons and Watkins. He got Siddons to fly out, but walked Watkins. Maybe sensing that he needed to bounce back by getting ahead, he delivered a first pitch fastball right down the middle to Colon, who hammered a no-doubter to left field once again. The homer was Colon's 16th of the year and gave Cal State Fullerton a 5-2 lead.
At this time, it was clear Mooneyham was beginning to tire. His fastball remained in the 89-92 miles-per-hour range, but he was struggling with his command of all three pitches. However, given the Stanford bullpen's struggles this year, Mooneyham was probably still the best pitching option.
Stanford was once again unlucky in the top of the sixth. With two out and Smith, who hit a double to left center, on second Schlander hit a line drive to second base that was snagged by the leaping second baseman Orloff, a ball that would have definitely scored Smith. Ramirez then struck out Kaskow to end the inning.
The Titans added one run in the sixth when Corey Jones drove in Billy Marcoe with a one-out double down the right field line. That was Mooneyham's last batter, as righty Danny Sandbrink came on in relief. Mooneyham allowed six earned runs on five hits in 5.1 innings, striking out five and walking two on 97 pitches.
The Cardinal scored three seventh-inning runs, but a base running mistake by Dave Giuliani proved to be costly. Giuliani led off the inning with a double to left center field. Then, he tried to advance on a Gaffney ground ball to the shortstop but was thrown out. It was a bad mistake by Giuliani, as runners on second base are taught to advance on balls hit at them or to their left. They are taught to stay on balls hit to their right. The ball was hit to Giuliani's right, yet he tried to advance and was thrown out easily.
After Walsh singled, Piscotty drove a 1-0 curveball over the left field fence, cutting the Titans deficit to one run. Diekroeger doubled later in the inning, but to no avail, as Smith flied out to left field.
With more than 100 pitches to this point, Ramirez was starting to fatigue. His arsenal included an 86-88 miles-per-hour, two-seam fastball that tailed in to righties, along with an 80-82 miles-per-hour curveball and 74-76 miles-per-hour changeup. Throughout the late innings, he was relying mostly on his off-speed pitches, while surprising the hitters with fastball every so often. Still, Cal State Fullerton head coach Dave Serrano had a lot of confidence in the sophomore and kept him in until the ninth.
Stanford was retired quickly in the top of the eighth, as Sandbrink continued to keep the Cardinal within one run. Overall, the junior righty allowed only one hit and struck out three in 2.2 innings. Sandbrink gave up two earned runs in three innings during regional play this year.
Noe Ramirez earned the win while Mooneyham got the loss. For Cal State Fullerton, Colon went 2-for-4 with four runs batted in. Four other Titans had one hit. For Stanford, Gaffney and Piscotty each had two hits. Piscotty drove in four runs, while five other players had one hit.
Around the Pac-10
In Fayetteville, the No. 2 seeded Washington State Cougars lost 6-4 to No. 1 seed Arkansas. They will play Kansas State in an elimination game on Sunday and, if they advance, will have to beat the Razorbacks twice in order to advance to the super regional.
In Norman, No. 2 California was ousted by No. 3 Oral Roberts in a 9-8 game. They were the only other Pac-10 team eliminated on Saturday.
No. 1 UCLA beat No. 2 Louisiana State 6-3 to advance to the regional final. They will play the winner of the Tigers and No. 3 UC-Irvine.
New Mexico 9, Stanford 5
Down 4-3 in the seventh, the Lobos scored four runs off of four Cardinal pitchers to take their third and final lead of the game, as senior lefty Jason Oatman pitched the final 3.1 innings and got the win.
Stanford starting pitcher Jordan Pries allowed two of the first three batters to reach base in the inning, after which he was pulled from the game. He allowed five earned runs on seven hits in 6.1 innings, striking out four and walking one. The Lobos tied the game and took the lead on relievers Danny Sandbrink and Scott Snodgress, as Sandbrink allowed a game-tying sacrifice fly to Adam Courcha and walked the bases full. Snodgress' came into the game and walked-in the go-ahead run on four pitches. Brian Busick replaced Snodgress, but New Mexico's Chris Juarez delivered a two-run single up the middle.
The Cardinal rallied for one run in the seventh, but the Lobos added two in the ninth, as Oatman, who pitched solid game on Monday against Texas Christian University, provided his another good outing.
Catcher Rafael Neda hit a solo home run in the first inning on the first pitch he saw from Jordan Pries. Stanford responded by tallying three in the bottom of the first. Tyler Gaffney hit a leadoff home run to left field off of New Mexico ace Willy Kesler. After Stephen Piscotty, the No. 3 batter, singled, Ben Clowe homered to center field on a 1-2 pitch, giving the Cardinal a 3-1 lead. New Mexico tied it in the fourth on a Juarez RBI double and Max Willet's RBI groundout. The Cardinal took their final lead in the fifth when Kenny Diekroeger drove in Colin Walsh on an RBI single to center field.
Kesler gave up four earned runs on 11 hits in 5.2 innings, striking out five and walking one. Stanford's Pries was able to hold the New Mexico offense at bay for awhile but seemed to tire in the seventh. The Stanford bullpen, the team's achillies' heal this season, was not able to fight the Lobos' surge due, in part, to the two key walks in the crucial seventh inning.
The Stanford offense got 14 hits, with at least one in every inning except the ninth. Piscotty, Clowe, and Jake Schlander each had two hits, while Gaffney and Diekroeger each had three. The Lobos combined for 10 hits, with Juarez and Willett getting three and two hits, respectively. Six different Lobos drove in at least one run, while the team drew seven walks in total.
The Titans have two potential first-round picks in shortstop Christian Colon (.342/.430/.596 with 14 home runs) and outfielder Gary Brown (.438/.485/.695 with 31 stolen bases). They also have a strong starting pitching staff and sent their No. 2 starter and righty, Noe Ramirez, to the hill against the Cardinal. Ramirez is 10-1 with a 2.50 earned run average in 90 innings. He's allowed 75 hits and has a pretty good 95-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The offense has a .411 on-base percentage and has hit 56 home runs on the year, compared to Stanford's .368 on-base percentage and 36 home runs.
The Titans faced Stanford ace Brett Mooneyham in the only region that saw the two highest seeds both lose in their openers.
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