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Baseball heads to No. 2 Stanford twenty years after CWS final


Francesca Nemati / Thresher

By Daniel Schrager     2/23/23 7:18pm

Twenty years ago, Stanford University was the second-best team in college baseball. The Cardinal finished that season as runners-up in the College World Series, falling short to a team from a small Texas school – Rice. Two decades later, Stanford is once again the No. 2 team in college baseball – this time according to the weekly D1Baseball poll and not postseason results – but the Owls haven’t sniffed the rankings in over half a decade.

But the teams' respective fates since that ‘03 series haven’t been as different as Stanford’s current ranking would suggest. Both teams were fixtures in the NCAA postseason in the years that followed, but failed to make it back to Omaha with the same frequency. Then, both teams saw dips in form toward the end of the last decade as the tenures of their longtime head coaches – Wayne Graham for the Owls and Mark Marquess for the Cardinal – wound down. But Marquess’s successor David Esquer has led Stanford back to Omaha twice in five years while Graham’s, Matt Bragga, was fired after three seasons.

Now the Owls head to Palo Alto at 2-2, with Jose Cruz Jr. in his second season at the helm, to take on last year’s Pac-12 champions. The Cardinal also come into the series at 2-2, having lost to the University of California, Berkeley on Tuesday. Stanford dropped their season opener 8-1 to California State University, Fullerton, before closing the series with a pair of wins, including a seven-run ninth inning rally on Sunday to force extra innings, where the Cardinal put up eight runs in the tenth. According to Cruz, the Owls know their opponent is prone to offensive outbursts and are simply hoping to minimize the damage.

“They're a powerful group,” Cruz said. “Like, they could hit. So it's something that we have to … understand that they're going to occasionally hit the long ball, and it is what it is. Just hopefully the longball will be with nobody on.”

The Cardinal offense is led by first baseman Carter Graham, a second-team All-American last year according to Baseball America, who struggled in the opening series. Outfielder (and pitcher) Braden Montgomrey, last year’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, has picked up the slack, batting well over .400 through four games. According to junior pitcher Matthew Linskey, he doesn’t plan to change his approach against Stanford’s big-name bats.

“You can't really think about the offensive power they have,” Linskey said. “You just have to stick to your best stuff and work with where you feel comfortable and pitch with what you have.”

Cruz said that he is still deciding how he’ll use his pitchers, but that sophomore Parker Smith will start on Friday.

“It's going to be basically all hands on deck on Friday,” Cruz said. “Whoever's available on Saturday, our best option is going to throw, and then we'll go from there.”

As for the Owls bats, they’ll look to build off of a 12-run outing in the last game of their opening series against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, after putting up just six runs across games one and two. They’ll face a Stanford staff led by Quinn Mathews, a preseason All-American lefty who had the second lowest ERA in the Pac-12 last season. According to junior infielder/outfielder Connor Walsh, who already has four extra-base hits on the season, the Owls can’t afford to focus on the names on Stanford’s staff.

“When you start thinking about who the pitcher is, or what people say the pitcher is, it can mess with your head,” Walsh said. “And when you get in that you're letting the pitcher have an edge over you.”

While Cruz knows the Cardinal are a formidable opponent, he said he is encouraged by what he’s seen so far this season, and thinks the Owls can stay competitive throughout the series.

“We definitely need to win a game out there,” Cruz said. “I, personally, go into every game thinking I'm going to win it. So we're going to try and make it as difficult as possible for them.”

First pitch on Friday is at 4:00 p.m. Saturday’s game starts at 4:05 while Sunday’s starts at 1:05.

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