Baseball loses Super Regional Game 1, stunned by Texas in five-run ninth inning

No. 8 Stanford (42-18, 23-7 Pac-12) was defeated by Texas (41-20, 15-9 Big 12) in Game 1 of the NCAA Super Regionals in a stunning 7-5 loss on Saturday evening in Palo Alto. The result was driven by a devastatingly sloppy final inning that led to a five-run onslaught by the Longhorns, overwhelming the Cardinal and allowing the Longhorns to snatch the first game of the best-of-three series.

The game started out comfortably in the Cardinal’s control, with the first inning yielding the Longhorns just one base before Stanford enjoyed three walks accompanied by a single from first baseman Carter Graham. The last of the walks, courtesy of Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Malcolm Moore, brought home junior infielder Tommy Troy to kick off the Cardinal offense with a 1-0 lead.

Some brilliant pitching by junior pitcher Joey Dixon made life easy for the Cardinal defense in the game’s first four innings. In the second inning, he threw three straight swinging strikeouts, and the third consisted simply of routine catch-and-throw outs for the infielders, topped off with a fly ball to right field. In the fourth inning, Dixon caught Texas with two strikes and an easy flier. 

Stanford took advantage of the strong defense. While the second inning was nothing remarkable, the third inning saw a spark in the offense from sophomore right fielder Braden Montgomery, who split the gap between center and right field for a deep double. Pac-12 Player of the Year, junior catcher Alberto Rios, was next up to bat with a chance to capitalize, but Texas pitcher Lucas Gordon rebounded from a 3-0 count to strike him out. Rios was then followed up by Moore, who built off of Montgomery’s double with one of his own, driving Montgomery home and placing himself into scoring position. However, a ball hit toward the mound by junior infielder Drew Bowser ended the inning with a quick 1-3 putout by Gordon.

In fact, in the very next inning, Gordon started off by taking out two Stanford hitters via 1-3 putouts and finished off by pitching to junior outfielder Eddie Park, who hit a bouncing ball just outside the infield for the Longhorns to get the easy out.

Texas began turning it around at the top of the fifth inning. Outfielder Porter Brown hit out to center field for a single, and Kennedy hit a home run to tie the game up at 2-2, followed up by a single from infielder Jalin Flores. Dixon, regaining his composure, found himself another strikeout, and then right fielder Saborn Campbell grabbed a line drive to right field to make it out two. Stanford then took Dixon out of the game, replacing him with pitcher Drew Dowd. Dowd’s first pitch was errant and allowed Texas to steal a base, but he ended up getting into stride, pitching a bouncing ball hit to first base for an easy out, and cleaned up the sixth inning with minimal issues for the Stanford defense.

The sixth inning saw a solo homer by Bowser launched to left field, giving Stanford a 3-2 lead. Sophomore infielder Temo Becerra built off of Bowser’s momentum, striking the ball into a gap in deep right-center field, leaving the ball rolling to the wall as he made his way to second base, with an error by the catcher giving him the opportunity to steal third, which he did. Park then came back from a 1-2 count to force a walk. Gordon then came out, and substitute Charlie Hurley got the strikeout to kill the momentum.

The top of the seventh, aside from an error at first base that turned a bunt before the mound into a double, went relatively smoothly, setting up a Stanford counterattack. But Texas found their defensive stride and firmly controlled the inning with the first two at-bats, two hits snapped up by the fielding team. After that, however, Rios broke through and hit a wall-touching stinger that brought him a double. Following him up, Moore rang home a scorching homer — 406 ft — just past the centerfield fence to bring home Rios and himself, creating a cushion for Stanford at 5-2. Bowser then struck out after a full count, but a statement was made.

The eighth inning began with a quick two outs by a ground ball and a strikeout. During an at-bat at a 1-0 count, Stanford took out Dowd and subbed in junior closer Ryan Bruno. Bruno, a powerful yet erratic pitcher, took Dowd’s batter to 3 straight walks before closing out with a 1-3 strikeout to end the inning. The Cardinal then led off their possession with a walk by Campbell and a sacrifice bunt from Becerra, leading to a second base for Campbell. Troy then stepped up to the plate, and Texas intentionally walked him and proceeded to nab Graham’s stinger between second and third to end the inning.

Texas, making note of Bruno’s pitching, made sure to follow a specific strategy, leading to disaster for the Cardinal defense. That strategy? “Act like you’re on a 3-1 count,” per Texas coach David Pierce, as relayed to the ESPN2 announcing team. The Longhorns dared Bruno to throw a strike, and it paid off for them. 

With the first at-bat, Bruno came in on a full count and eventually walked Kennedy, an at-bat where Kennedy swung just once. Flores then came up to the plate, and Bruno threw him a 3-1 count before the umpire called a hit on Flores’s elbow from an inside steamer. Stanford coach David Esquer challenged the call but failed. The next batter, infielder Jack O’Dowd, was then walked, loading the bases for Texas. Flores and O’Dowd did not swing once. 

Stanford then substituted Bruno and brought in freshman pitcher Matt Scott, looking to defuse the bomb known as “Bases Loaded with no Outs.” Scott pitched a fly ball to right field. Campbell and Park, both on the ball, were in position to make the easy catch, but miscommunication caused a fatal error that allowed Texas to explode for two runs on the play. Texas had a statement of their own: they wouldn’t back down.

On the next play, another ball was hit and grounded out, but not without another run, equalizing the game at 5-5. After two walks on the next two at-bats, the bases were loaded yet again with two outs remaining. Scott proceeded to strike out the next hitter, but at the next at-bat, Brown hit a deep right-field double that drove home two more Longhorns, giving them the lead for the first time in the game at 7-5. The next batter hit an easy groundout to first base, putting an end to a miserable defensive possession that consisted of four walks, one hit batter and one major error.

With their backs against the wall, Montgomery and Rios struck out on opposite 96-mph cutters. Moore was up next to bat, taking it to 2-2 before he swung at a breaking ball, ending what was a shocking and painfully winnable game for the Cardinal.

Game 2 of the series is back in Palo Alto on Sunday at 6 p.m. PT on ESPN2.