The good and the bad for Beavers
CORVALLIS — Through four innings Sunday at Goss Stadium, Oregon State — leading Stanford 6-1 — was on the verge of a number of things.
Of a sweep of the Cardinal, ranked either No. 1 or 2 in the five national polls.
Of seizing the Pac-12 lead.
Of a potential No. 1 national ranking, depending on how pollsmakers felt about the other No. 1, Florida, losing one of three to Southeastern Conference rival Georgia.
But the Cardinal dashed such hopes with a spirited rally. They sent the issue into extra innings with a ninth-inning home run, then scored three runs on a double by West Linn's Mike Matthiessen in the 10th for a 9-6 victory.
The victory kept Stanford (39-8 overall, 18-6 in Pac-12 play) atop the conference standings, a game and a half ahead of Oregon State (38-8-1, 16-7-1), which is ranked third and fourth in the polls.
"I've been coaching a lot of years," said David Esquer, in his first season coaching Stanford after an 18-year run at California. "I don't think I've had a better win than today as far as what it meant for our team and its progress."
The Cardinal were reeling after falling 6-2 and 10-0 in the first two games of the series. And when they fell behind by five runs early Sunday, it appeared the bottom could fall out. But they gathered themselves and kept chipping away at the Beavers.
"We had to find ourselves," Esquer said. "It was about being relaxed in the moment. The players understood how big the game was. It was like, 'We're going to have this moment again sometime during the year, when it's going to be big, and we have to be relaxed in that moment.' That's part of the growing-up process."
When pinch hitter Nick Oar — with nine at-bats all season — stroked a solo homer off Oregon State closer Jake Mulholland with one out in top of the ninth inning to tie the game at 6-6, it put air into the Stanford sails and sucked it out of the capacity Mother's Day crowd of 3,805.
After Matthiessen lashed a double inches inside the left-field line for the game-winning blow in the 10th, the issue was left in the hands of Cardinal closer Jack Little, who worked the final of 3 1/3 scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 0.69.
"We've talked about it all year long," Esquer said. "Pitching, defense and a different hero every night is what we need. One player doesn't make this team."
A year ago, Oregon State went 56-6, winning the Pac-12 with a 27-3 record. Stanford, under Mark Marquess, was second in the conference at 21-9 and finished 42-16 overall.
The Cardinal have only one returning starter from the team that lost 4-2 to Cal State Fullerton in a regional final in 2017.
"Other than (shortstop) Nico Hoerner, everybody out there today for us wasn't on the field a year ago," Esquer said. "And we're playing against a team that had like the best season in college baseball history, and everybody was back on the field for them. We had quite a challenge. I'm really proud of our guys."
After Luke Heimlich and Bryce Fehmel hurled gems in the first two games, Oregon State's pitchers weren't up to the task Sunday, yielding 16 hits, seven walks and two hit-by-pitch.
"As well as we pitched the first two games, we certainly didn't do that today," OSU coach Pat Casey said. "We didn't have one arm we ran out there who gave us what we were looking for. When we get 12 hits and six runs off the team with the nation's best ERA, we should win the game."
Freshman Kevin Abel, starting his third game of the season, threw 107 pitches over his four-plus innings, yielding four hits and two runs while walking six and striking out six, with two batters hit by pitch.
Relievers Dylan Pearce, Christian Chamberlain and Mulholland allowed a combined 12 hits and seven runs over their six innings. OSU pitchers threw a staggering 223 pitchers in 10 innings.
Oregon State, meanwhile, knocked Stanford starter Brendan Beck — who came into the game with a 6-0 record and the league's best ERA (1.42) — from the box after three innings with seven hits and six runs. But the Cardinal bullpen shut out the Beavers the rest of the way.
"It always comes down to pitching," Casey said, "and it did today."
The Beavers, who came into the weekend 2 1/2 games back of Stanford, still won the series against the conference leader.
Oregon State has won eight straight series, and 21 of 24 games, against the Cardinal dating to 2011.
The Beavers played error-less ball and got two great pitching performances in the series, but couldn't complete the sweep.
"You feel good about winning the series, but you don't feel good abou) today, having a 6-1 lead," Casey said. "(The Cardinal) had 25 base runners. I don't know how they scored only nine runs.
"But we were in great position, and we just didn't finish. We had every opportunity, but we didn't deserve to win the game."
The Beavers scored 22 runs on 32 hits in the series against a Stanford pitching staff that came in with a nation's best 2.54 ERA. The figure stands at 2.81 after Sunday.
"They have a relentless batting order," Esquer said. "There isn't a breather in the whole lineup. They do a great job of having unselfish at-bats. I don't see anybody trying to get too big. They all are able to find a hit on the field."
Stanford enters the final two weeks of the season at No. 2 in the national RPI rankings, Oregon State at No. 6. A selection committee will choose eight teams to be national seeds, which would mean the opportunity to host a regional and, if advancing that far, a super regional.
Oregon State had no time to breathe after the Stanford series. San Diego (23-30) was due to invade Corvallis to end its season with a pair of nonleague contests Monday and Tuesday. After that, the Beavers head for Los Angeles for a three-game series with Southern Cal (23-23, 11-16). OSU ends its season with a three-game series at home against UCLA (31-16, 15-9), which is tied with Washington (25-21, 15-9) for third place in the Pac-12.
Stanford has six league games remaining — a home series against Washington State (15-27-1, 7-16-1) next weekend and a series at Washington May 24-26.
Sunday's loss "is not fatal," Casey said. "It depends on how we respond. The guys have been playing their asses off. We didn't have Nick (Madrigal, the second baseman) for five of our conference losses. He makes a big difference, but he can't pitch.
"I felt whoever won (Sunday) had a good shot at winning the (Pac-12) title. Now if we want to (get a national seed), we probably have to win five or six of the last eight games."
Esquer holds the Beavers in high regard.
"They're an Omaha team as far as I'm concerned," the Stanford coach said. "They play team baseball. They play defense very well. They do the little things well, some of the things we didn't do well earlier in the season.
"It's as good a batting order as I've seen all year long. I can't imagine there's a more experienced batting order, as dangerous and as diverse, as Oregon State's."