Photo courtesy of Vanessa Buentello
Bobcats uproot No. 2 Stanford, 5-2, move on to regional final
PALO ALTO, Calif. - Texas State's NCAA journey just took a volcanic jolt. The Bobcats clouted three homers in a 5-2 triumph over No. 2 overall seed Stanford on Saturday evening at storied Sunken Diamond.
Bobcats coach Steven Trout conceded his 82nd win at Texas State was his sweetest.
FINAL @smdrsports #Stanford 2#TXST 5
The Bobcats knock off the No. 2 team in the country and are now one win away from moving on to a Super Regional
At some point, it's just not surprising anymore pic.twitter.com/HWup7iEiDe
— Drew King (@drewking0222) June 5, 2022
"We're one game away from winning a regional and heading to a super (regional)," Trout said. "We always talk about the next game is the most important, but what a big win for our program. We've never won two games in a regional before. This team has broken a lot of records, set in history. It has been fun being along for the ride with these guys."
Texas State now has a single-season best 85 home runs, while the Cardinal has 99 round-trippers this season, three short of a school record. Yet, Bobcats sophomore starting pitcher Levi Wells (9-1) and senior closer Tristan Stivors kept the powerful Cardinal in the park.
Wells, changing speeds masterfully, went 7.0 innings, striking out six, scattering 8 hits. Stivors fanned five batters in 2 innings, recording his nation-best 18th save as Stanford's 17-game win streak was severed like an out-of-place piece of string on one's shirt.
"Texas State played a good game," Stanford head coach David Esquer said. "They got it where they wanted it; their starter to their closer, who is pretty tough."
Esquer addressed the home run competition.
"We said at the beginning of the day that the team which hits the most home runs would win," Esquer said. "They hit three and we didn't hit any. They beat us at our own game."
Doing his long ball part for the Bobcats was junior left fielder Jose Gonzalez, who yanked a two-out solo blast to right field in the first inning. Gonzalez did not discriminate, going the opposite way for his 12th home run of the season to start the bottom of the fourth.
That seemed to rattle Stanford senior ace and Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year Alex Williams (7-3), who gave up a double to Justin Thompson and then a two-run homer to Wesley Faison in the bottom of the fourth, the Bobcats holding a 4-1 edge. It was Faison's 11th home run of the year.
Ben McClain lined a double to left to begin the fifth, eventually scoring on a fielder's choice grounder by Thompson. The home run outburst by the Bobcats was surprising, considering Williams had allowed just two home runs in 81 innings entering the contest.
"We were going against a real good arm in Williams," Trout said. "I didn't think we'd hit three home runs against him. Jose (Gonzalez) had different plans, I guess. What a great night for him."
Gonzalez admitted he had a multi-homer game against Lafayette "a few weeks ago."
"I'm getting more comfortable," said Gonzalez, who was hitless on Friday. "It's the first time in a regional. I don't have to carry the load. I just need to put good swings on the ball."
Stanford suffered a major blow when sophomore first baseman Carter Graham hurt his leg while making a spectacular catch in foul territory in the second inning. Graham, who bounced hard into the fence 20 yards behind first base, tried to give it a go but was pulled from the game a few innings later. Graham leads the Cardinal with 20 home runs.
Graham's injury proved large when the Cardinal got the first two batters on board in the top of the ninth with what would have been Graham's spot in the order coming up. Stivors struck out Graham's replacement, Trevor Haskins, then fanned three-hole hitter Brett Barrera, the Bobcats one out away from living the dream.
Stanford freshman Braden Montgomery, the Mississippi State Gatorade Player of the Year, threatened to tie the game when he skied one to center. The ball, however, died in the night wind as McClain caressed the ball into his glove for the game's final out. Earlier, Montgomery roped one off the base of the right field wall, the ball hit so hard he was limited to a single.
"Baseball is a game of inches," Esquer said. "That hit by Montgomery looked like it was going out."
For the second game in succession, the Bobcats played spotless defense, though a scalding one-hopper by Tommy Troy bounced wickedly off the glove of Thompson at third for a dubious error. Troy was the Cardinal's hitting star with three hits, banging a pair of doubles.
Meanwhile, Wells and Stivors showed guts, getting rewarded with 3-2 curveballs that dropped in for strike three. Of the Cardinal's 11 strikeouts, four were looking.
"Stanford has an elite offense," Trout said. "That was the most pitches Wells has thrown this year, but he continued to want the baseball. You feel confident when Stivors rolls out there."
"We've made great leaps from last year," Stivors said. "You couldn't ask anything else from the guys. We got out there pitch-by-pitch and it's showing. We're winning ballgames."
The way the Bobcats are playing, they may not need the "if necessary" game on Monday to notch the biggest win in program history.
It's showing. They're winning ballgames and the nation is watching.
Texas State (47-12, 26-4 Sun Belt) shoots for its first-ever regional crown Sunday night at 7 p.m. Stanford (42-15, 21-9 Pac-12) and UC Santa Barbara (44-13, 27-3 Big West) vie in an elimination game at 1 p.m. with the victor taking on the Bobcats, who hold the coveted hammer.