Finals wrap up at Stanford next week, but the Cardinal baseball team faces its biggest test in Tallahassee, Fla., this weekend.
After back-to-back come-from-behind wins in regional action last weekend, Stanford (41-16) continues its quest for its first national championship since 1988 against Florida State (46-15) in a best-of-three super regional beginning at 4 p.m. Friday (ESPN2).
“They won’t be uptight about worrying about the game too much, they’ll be trying to get their finals [completed],” coach Mark Marquess said. “Which is good — it’s a distraction.”
But come Friday, Stanford will be completely locked in to beating a Seminoles team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation by Baseball America for seven straight weeks between April 9 and May 21. To do so, the Cardinal will likely need to stabilize its starting pitching.
Friday’s starter, Mark Appel, a Golden Spikes Award finalist, has been as lights-out as any pitcher in college baseball this season, posting a 10-1 record with a 2.27 ERA. Appel, the No. 8 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in Monday’s baseball draft, threw a four-hitter against Fresno State in the opening game of last weekend’s regional; but No. 2 pitcher Brett Mooneyham has been dinged for 11 earned runs in six innings of work over his last two outings, and Sunday starter Stephen Piscotty has only four career starts under his belt.
And the arms will be facing a Seminoles arsenal that averages 6.5 runs per game.
“The middle of the lineup is really dangerous, you’ve got to be very careful that they don’t beat you,” Marquess said.
Center fielder James Ramsey, the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, led the conference in runs scored (72), total bases (142), slugging percentage (.683) and on-base percentage (.520), while first baseman, Jayce Boyd, who protects him in the order, was first in batting average (.390) and hits (90).
But the Cardinal bats can put crooked numbers on the board, too. They average 6.7 runs per game and rallied back from 4-0 deficits twice against Pepperdine last weekend. If Stanford has one matchup edge it might be experienced bats against freshman pitchers.
The Seminoles wouldn’t have qualified for their fifth straight super regional without the overnight maturation of two freshman starters, Mike Compton and Brandon Leibrandt (son of former big-leaguer Charlie Leibrandt), who combined for an 18-4 record this season.
The Cardinal lineup features six bats that made the trip to the super regional in North Carolina last season and center fielder Jake Stewart said the experience could pay off.
“I don’t necessarily know if we were ready [last year], we were mainly freshman and sophomores,” he said, adding later: “This year, I think we’re more ready, we’re more focused and determined.”