Down 5-3 on the road in the top of the 9th inning, to a strong Washington Huskies club that also qualified for the NCAA post-season, Stanford’s Will Matthiessen had a Roy Hobbs moment. In a season that has been full of late game heroics for Matthiessen and seemingly the entire Cardinal roster, the 6’6” sophomore from West Linn, Oregon jacked a 1-1 fastball deep out of left-center field on a frozen rope to tie the game 5-5. Matthiessen’s home-run was such a no-doubt-dinger, that the television play-by-play announcer perfectly analyzed it off the bat, simply saying “Uh-oh.”
The monster two-run shot was not like ‘The Natural’ in a walk-off sense, but it did shift #2 Stanford’s (44-10 / 21-8 PAC-12) momentum in a brilliant and eventually victorious way. Having dropped critical games the previous two days on the Huskies’ (30-23 / 20-10 PAC-12) home turf, things had not gone Stanford’s way up to that point in the Emerald City. To add to the intensity, in what was the final regular season game for both teams, U Dub could have claimed the title themselves in front of their home fans with a win.
However, later in the top of the 9th, with two outs, star shortstop and highly-rated MLB prospect Nico Hoerner legged out an infield single to score Alec Wilson and put Stanford up 6-5. Then in the bottom of the 9th, Cardinal closer and 1st Team All-American Jack Little struck out the side, before being mobbed by his teammates on the mound in celebration.
First year Stanford head coach David Esquer, who was a key player on the ’87 Stanford NCAA Championship team coached by university icon Mark Marquess, summed up the experience precisely. “This team is never out of it. I love coaching these guys, and I love watching them play.”
Statistically speaking, it was a clutch performance by both Matthiessen (2 for 3 / 2 RBI / HR / 2 runs scored / 1 walk) and Hoerner (3 for 5 / 2B / 1 RBI) as I previously mentioned, but baseball truly is a team sport. In that capacity, left-fielder Kyle Stowers (1 for 3 / HR / 1 RBI / 2 runs scored / 1 walk), right-fielder Brandon Wulff (1 for 4 / HR / 2 RBI / 1 run scored), and second-baseman Beau Branton (2 for 5) also played critical roles in the field and at the plate in the biggest game of the year to date for the Cardinal.
On the hill for Stanford, junior workhorse Kris Bubic (8-1) started the game, and pitched five solid innings for his side in a no decision. He gave up 3 earned runs on 5 hits in the outing, and also had 5 strikeouts against the highly rated Washington offense.
It was the 18th Conference Baseball Championship for Stanford all-time, but the first since 2004. Also in victory, #2 Stanford earned the right to host a regional playoff for the 17th time in program history. It will be held tomorrow June 1st, through Monday June 4th at Sunken Diamond, where Stanford is 30-3 on the year. Baylor (36-19), Wright State (39-15), and Cal State Fullerton (32-23) round out the bracket, which will be played in double-elimination format.
Stanford’s opener against Wright State will be televised on ESPN2 tomorrow night June 1st at 7pm. So, the nation will be watching as these clutch Cardinal defend their hallowed home, and fight for their chance to be a part of The College World Series.