This weekend the Pac-12 Conference had its top teams in action. One series featured two teams in the top 15, while the other leading teams, except one, played weaker conference opponents.
No. 11 Stanford at No. 5 UCLA
Stanford traveled south to Los Angeles for an intriguing top 15 matchup with UCLA. The Cardinal sent ace Alex Williams to the mound on Thursday night to open the road series. Williams delivered a five-inning, one-run performance where he scattered two hits. Carter Graham and Braden Montgomery led Stanford with three-run home runs. The Cardinal bullpen only yielded two additional hits to Bruins batters who had just four hits in the game. Stanford pitchers held UCLA to just 1-for-15 with runners on base in the 9-1 Cardinal win.
On Saturday, the two teams faced off again, this time on Jackie Robinson Day, on the field named after the civil rights icon at his alma mater.
Michael Curialle hit a two-run home run in the second inning, and UCLA took a 4-0 to the fourth inning. Home runs by Montgomery and Drew Bowser kept Stanford close, and they tied the game with a run in the eighth inning. UCLA answered right back with a run in the bottom of the frame and held on for a 5-4 win to even the series.
Saturday afternoon was all Stanford as they punished UCLA pitching. Quinn Mathews took the mound for the Cardinal and kept the UCLA bats quiet, while the offense gave Mathew’s plenty of room to work with. Brock Jones hit two two-run home runs and Bowser had a two-run home run of his own. Bowser added a two RBI double later in the game. Mathews tossed seven shutout innings and struck out eight batters, and the bullpen preserved the shutout as Stanford took the road series with the 11-0 win.
Around the Conference
After losing the opener by one run on Thursday, Utah bounced back to win the next two and take the series from No. 17 Arizona with 11-4 and 9-5 wins. Arizona’s TJ Nichols improved to 5-2 on the year and Chase Davis powered the offense with four RBI in the 7-5 win on Thursday, but the rest of the weekend belonged to the Utes. This was a bad weekend loss for Arizona as their unpredictable performance continues. Arizona is 11-7 in conference play and 24-12 overall so their chances remain very much alive, but they face a tough test with series remaining against Arizona State, Oregon, and Oregon State.
Oregon swept Washington in Seattle over the weekend in three games decided by two runs or less. Jacob Walsh had a four RBI performance to lead Oregon’s offense and Anthony Hall added a two-run home run in the series-opening 7-5 win. Oregon needed some late magic, in the form of a five-run eighth inning, to win Friday’s game 8-6. Logan Mercado was solid out of the Oregon bullpen, throwing four innings and allowing just one unearned run. He earned the win with his performance and improved to 5-0 on the season.
The Ducks needed eleven innings on Saturday after giving away a sizable lead in the eighth inning. Tanner Smith hit a late home run for Oregon and Colby Shade drove in the game winning run in the 6-5 victory. Oregon is now 10-5 in conference play.
No. 12 Oregon State was in action over the weekend, but not within the conference. The Beavers played host to Long Beach State, and despite a narrow 3-1 win in Thursday’s opener, did not really struggle over the weekend with the Dirtbags, outscoring them 22-5 Friday and Saturday.
Stanford finishes the weekend 11-7 in conference play, and if they get a near-complete team performance the rest of the way, like they got this weekend in Los Angeles, they should be fighting for the top two or three spots in the Pac-12 by the time the conference tournament gets underway on May 25.
UCLA is 9-6 in conference play and their road could have become that much more difficult by only winning one game at home against Stanford. However, the Bruins will be favored to win their next three series before they close out the regular season at Oregon State, who might also be playing for positioning when that final weekend rolls around.
Oregon State is 10-5 in the conference. Their early inability to close out Sunday sweeps is holding them back when looking at their conference record compared to their dominant 27-7 record overall. The Beavers remain the team to beat, but the distance between two and three is not as far as was once believed, and five teams have a legitimate chance of winning the regular season title.
Five weekends remain for these programs, and if that seems like a long time or a lot of games, just consider that this weekend was week nine of the season. Opening weekend on February 18 does not seem all that long ago. May 25 in Scottsdale, Arizona will be here soon enough. The teams in the best position to win the first ever Pac-12 Tournament have until then to make their case on the field.