Stanford’s Tommy Troy leaps to the plate after hitting a grand slam in the seventh inning against Texas A&M at the Stanford Regional on Sunday. (John P. Lozano – Special for the Sentinel)
STANFORD — The incentive for Cardinal baseball players was simple: win a game and extend their season in the Stanford Regional.
National No. 8 seed Stanford avoided elimination twice in the span of 10 hours on Sunday, first surviving an epic battle against Cal State Fullerton 6-5, and beating Texas A&M 13-5 in the night cup.
The Cardinal, sent to the consolation group after losing to the Aggies on Saturday, won a third game against Texas A&M with his blowout. The teams meet in the regional championship at Sunken Diamond on Monday at 6 pm Winner advances to Super Regionals.
In the face of adversity, the cardinal remained remarkably calm, including his patron.
“All year, when I have had to take a step back, I have said that this is what keeps me calm about this club: we have good players. And two, they’re close and they love each other,” Cardinal coach David Esquer said. “I will start there and take a chance with that team anywhere. And they built that in the locker room. That is something I am proud of.
“When I came here to Stanford, all I hoped I could do is give you the same experience that I had as a player. And that experience, for me it was, I played with my best friends, and some of those friends are as close to me as brothers. And we were able to do special things when we had that bond. I see those similarities in the last two years and they keep passing them on. I think that allows them to get through these tough times and go deeper, come back late in games and come back when they’re down.”
While every player was seemingly needed to extend their season, two Cardinal players held higher at the end of the grueling day, pitcher Nick Dugan and third baseman Tommy Troy.
Dugan earned the win against Fullerton after allowing just one run in 3 2/3 innings of relief. But he wasn’t done. Not even close. He also came out of the bullpen against the Aggies and pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings to close out the game.
“That’s probably the most pitches I’ve ever thrown in one day,” Dugan said.
When the Cardinal gathered to shake hands after the game at the end of the night, there was a break in the flow once the players crossed Dugan’s path. Several cardinals gave him extended and heartfelt hugs.
“As I told the team when we met, ‘Over the next few years, when we talk about the baseball playoffs at Stanford, we’re going to talk about Nick Dugan’s performance today,’” Esquer said. “I don’t think a pitcher has thrown both ends of a doubleheader. He kept getting louder, telling us that he felt fine and he didn’t want to go out. We talk as coaches, ‘Should we keep it up?’ But he just kept getting better and better. He ran it to the end. What a great performance for us.”
The players also targeted Troy, a junior from Los Gatos. He was hitting 4-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs against the Titans, and 3-for-5 against the Aggies with a grand slam and three runs scored. His two outs in the night cup were hard-hit lines to the outfield.
“Every time he goes up, I think he just put a barrel on it,” Esquer said. “He didn’t give up any of those at-bats. The big swing, the grand slam, was like the nail on the head.”
On the day, Stanford (41-17) finished with 19 runs and 28 hits, including four doubles and four home runs. He brought his season home run total to 111.
“It’s an SEC offense,” Aggies coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “It’s an SEC style of play: not a lot of touches, they don’t run a lot, but they’re super, super physical. And if you don’t shoot, you’ll get bloody real quick.”
Texas A&M (38-26) jumped out to a 4-2 lead in the first inning when Jace LaViolette, a 6-foot-6 outfielder selected for the Freshman All-SEC team, hit a three-run home run in the middle of the batter. keep an eye on center field right away. The back-and-forth player gave him 20 home runs and 62 RBIs on the season, both team-leading totals.
But most of the 2,789 fans in attendance weren’t silenced for long. Carter Graham, who put Cardinal in first with a two-run double, hit a three-run triple in the second inning to give Cardinal the lead for good.
Aggies 6-5 senior outfielder Brett Minnich went big at Texas, hitting a solo home run in the sixth inning to pull within one run, 6-5, but the Cardinal again crushed their opponent’s momentum.
Stanford led off the game with their seven-run seventh inning. American outfielder Alberto Rios fired up the crowd with an RBI double and the hits kept coming, each one seemingly going further than the last.
Freshman catcher Malcolm Moore hit a two-run home run to right-center field, and five batters later, Troy, ahead in the count, followed with a home run over the fence in left field that has yet to land.
“We ended up hanging a breaking ball on the rookie catcher,” Schlossnagle said, recalling the tackle that broke his team’s back. “After that, you’re just chasing. We didn’t throw enough strikes and got stuck in a corner. We made a 2-0 pitch to Troy and he hit one to I don’t know where, Montana.”
Troy said he didn’t see where his ball landed. No one in the stadium did.
“I was super excited to be able to do it for the guys,” Troy said. “He’s just great. It’s a great group of guys, and being able to do that for them felt great.”
Dugan kept the Aggies in check down the stretch. He had four hits and a walk while striking out six batters.
Dugan was the fourth pitcher used by the Cardinal, and the Aggies used five.
Texas A&M pulled their starter after 1 2/3 innings for the third straight game.
“We just can’t get behind in the count,” Schlossnagle said. “You can’t lock yourself in a corner as a pitcher against this lineup and expect you’re going to throw fastballs and win the game. …They have a good team, but so do we. We just have to play nice. It’s never about the best team, it’s about the team that plays the best.”
It’s a trend the deadly Cardinal offense would like to extend Monday, when they’ll play with the same motivation: one more day with their baseball brethren.
Stanford has chosen its opener. Well maybe.
“I told the team at the end, ‘Dugan, you start tomorrow,’” Esquer said, smiling.
Stanford 13, Texas A&M 5
Until next time: Stanford Regional Championship, Stanford vs. Texas A&M
When: Monday, 18:00
Where: Sunken Diamond, Stanford