By Steve Parkhurst
The Stanford Cardinal traveled north to Eugene, Oregon this weekend for a Pac-12 showdown with the Oregon Ducks. Before the weekend series, College Baseball Nation had Oregon ranked #9 and Stanford #12 while both teams are in the hunt for the conference title.
A great Friday night pitching matchup between Stanford’s Brendan Beck and Oregon’s Robert Ahlstrom offered a contrast beyond school uniforms; Beck maintains a prototypical right-handers build and look, including pant legs down to his ankles, while Ahlstrom is a tall, thin left-hander with long hair and plenty of green stocking showing from his knees down to his ankles. The two could not appear more opposite, though their accolades as top starters are similar.
Friday’s game was moving briskly as both starters worked quickly, threw strikes, and got outs. Despite neither team scoring runs, the atmosphere in the ballpark was electric.
The game was still scoreless going to the bottom of the seventh. Aaron Zavala singled to lead off the inning. Then, Gabe Matthews hit a 2-2 pitch over the wall in right field for his sixth home run of the season and a 2-0 Oregon lead.
“I was just trying to square something up through the middle of the field," Matthews said after the game. "He threw me a curveball that hung up a little bit, and I was able to put a good swing on it."
In the top of the eighth, Stanford cut their deficit to 2-1 before Kolby Somers came in to relieve Ahlstrom. Stanford was shut down in the ninth aside from a two-out walk by Somers as he preserved the 2-1 win for his tenth save over the final 1 ⅔ innings.
“That's as good a Friday night ballgame as I've been a part of in some time," Oregon head coach Mark Wasikowski said afterward. “It was just an outstanding ballgame."
Stanford head coach David Esquer said the opener, “was as high a level of college baseball game as you can play. It was two great pitchers, squaring off, and the game was going to come down to who was going to crack a little bit.” And of Beck’s one blemish Coach Esquer stated, “It wasn’t a bad pitch or a mistake. It was a good player, putting a good swing, and just kind of winning the at-bat and you have to tip your hat to that.”
That “good swing” cost Beck his first defeat of the season as he fell to 6-1.
Saturday’s middle game featured another formidable pitching matchup as Cullen Kafka threw for Oregon and Alex Williams did the same for Stanford.
Oregon wasted no time in the bottom of the first, Josh Kasevich had a two-out RBI for an early 1-0 lead.
In the top of the third, Stanford scored three unearned runs, two of them on a Christian Robinson single up the middle.
The Ducks answered back immediately as Kenyon Yovan tied the game in the bottom of the third with a two-run home run to left, his thirteenth of the season. Kasevich then gave Oregon the 4-3 lead on a sacrifice fly to right field.
A Drew Bowser leadoff home run tied things in the fourth. Then, Stanford took the lead back in the fifth on a Bowser (3-for-4) double to right-center that one-hopped the wall. A solo home run by Tim Tawa in the sixth gave the Cardinal a 6-4 advantage.
Williams got the game into the seventh for Stanford, going 6 ⅓ and allowing six hits and striking out five.
The Ducks made it 6-5 in the bottom of the eighth. In the ninth, a one-out walk put the tying run on base, but Stanford went to the bullpen and reliever Joey Dixon ended the threat. Williams moved to 2-1 with the win.
Sunday’s rubber match had plenty on the line as the two teams prepared to head into the final week of regular season action, and with the Arizona Wildcats holding a lead for the top spot in the Pac-12.
Oregon sent Brett Walker and his 6-2 record to the mound while a “bullpen day” for Stanford was started by Quinn Mathews.
The Ducks got a run in the first for a 1-0 lead and Mathews was finished having only recorded one out, but he had walked two and a wild pitch indicated Sunday was not to be. Oregon increased the lead to 3-0 in the second as the Cardinal went to their bullpen for their third pitcher in the young game.
Oregon seemed to have the winning formula working, they set down the Cardinal in order in the top of the third, exactly what is wanted for a young pitcher with a sizable lead. Kasevich hit the first pitch of the bottom of the fourth over the wall in left-center. Oregon added a run on yet another Cardinal relief pitcher and had a 5-0 lead going to the fourth.
Stanford got on the board in the fourth and only trailed 5-2 while their pitching kept the Ducks from doing any further damage.
Walker pitched Oregon into the sixth inning before he was relieved. Stanford put together a three-run inning to tie the game at five; four of the runs were Walker’s responsibility.
The two teams then held each other scoreless for the next five innings.
Still tied in the twelfth, the Cardinal finally broke through with a single by Kody Huff to take a one run lead. That was almost immediately followed by a two-run home run by Christian Robinson to the opposite field that gave Stanford an 8-5 advantage. Oregon had no answer offensively in the bottom of the twelfth and Stanford took the final game, and the weekend series.
Relievers Dixon and Jacob Palisch pitched the final 9 1/3 innings of scoreless relief for Stanford allowing only two hits each. Coach Esquer was happy with their outings, “When Palisch got in there, he kind of stemmed the tide for a while and did a great job.” “Dixon, who closed Saturday’s game, just came back and was just as effective and just as good as he was on Saturday,” Esquer said.
Stanford leaves Eugene 31-13 overall and 15-9 in Pac-12 play and with the momentum a 2-of-3 road series win brings with it, while Oregon is now 35-13 overall, 18-9 in the conference.