Freshmen like Tommy Edman and Cal Quantrill are the reason Stanford baseball coach Mark Marquess likes to schedule some of the nation's top programs during the preseason.
Marquess had some concern that a pitching staff with three freshmen in the starting rotation could become overwhelmed. Instead it became a positive learning experience.
Edman opened the season batting ninth and playing second base (a decision that sent Menlo School grad Danny Diekroeger to first base).
Edman since has been promoted to the leadoff spot and moved to shortstop, taking over when Drew Jackson went down with an injury. He's gotten steadily better and currently owns an eight-game hitting streak.
Because they survived such a wicked schedule, Edman had no problem stepping into the batter's box in the bottom of the ninth inning with the Cardinal losing by a run and Quantrill had no problem pitching on two days rest with the season at stake.
"We were starting three freshmen and weren't hitting," Marquess said of Stanford's 11-16 start. "They go to Indiana, with the noisy crowds, and aren't intimidated. They've already seen that at Texas and Vanderbilt."
Edman hit a two-run homer, his first batting left-handed at any level, and Stanford walked off with a 5-4 victory over the top-seeded Hoosiers in the championship game of the NCAA Bloomington Regional on Monday.
Edman was named the Outstanding Player in the Bloomington Regional for batting .417 (10-for-24) and played sparkling defense.
Quantrill, named to Collegiate Baseball's All-American Freshman team, recorded the final seven outs to gain his second victory of the regional. He was also the winning pitcher in last Friday's opening victory over Indiana State. He is 7-5 with a 2.69 ERA in 100-plus innings.
The Cardinal (34-24) earned a returned trip to Vanderbilt this weekend at one of eight NCAA Super Regional sites. The teams meet Friday at 10 a.m. (ESPN2), with games scheduled for Saturday (noon) and Sunday (noon, if necessary), also on ESPN2.
The eight Super Regional survivors meet in Omaha for the College World Series.
The Commodores (47-18) swept Stanford, 4-1, 5-1 and 4-2, in Nashville Feb. 28-March 2.
"We are a completely different team," Quantrill said. "It's a great opportunity to see how much a difference of a couple months can make."
Quantrill, who grew up watching his father, Paul, pitch in the major leagues and once was a bat boy for the Los Angeles Dodgers, said the biggest difference is not making as many mistakes.
"High school is so different from college and coming from Canada, it is not remotely close," Quantrill said. "You are not going to get away with mistakes. College hitters take advantage of them more often. I'm not making as many now."
Edman, who grew up with a father who coached baseball, said the rough preseason toughened the team up a bit.
"It was great for us," he said. "It made us stronger to play the best teams possible. Nothing is a shock when you're playing good teams. We've seen that before."
Perhaps nothing signifies Stanford's improvement than its success in close games. Over the first 27 games, the Cardinal was 6-9 in games decided by three runs or less. Stanford is 16-5 in those games since.
"The team has been resilient all year," Edman said. "We've come from behind, we've had walk-off wins and we played well this weekend."
Edman said he didn't have much trouble moving to shortstop when Jackson went down, having spent his high school career there.
"It's not really that much different," he said. "It was not too hard of a transition."
Stanford also experienced some difficulty as the Pac-12 season opened, losing eight of its first 11 conference games. The Cardinal was on a five-game losing streak in conference play when junior John Hochstatter took the mound against Washington on April 13.
It was Hochstatter's first start of the season and ended the streak of freshman starters over the first 27 games.
Zach Hoffpauir and Austin Slater combined to go 5 for 7 with three RBI, something that became common the rest of the way. They are the top two Cardinal hitters over the past 31 games.
Freshman Jack Klein, whose grandfather Bud Klein played baseball for Stanford and has the field at Sunken Diamond named after him, hit a three-run home run in Stanford's opening win over Indiana State to break open a close game last week.
Klein was the first of nine different Cardinal players to hit a home run in the regional. Slater, Diekroeger, Hoffpauir, Alex Blandino, Dominic Jose, Brant Whiting and Wayne Taylor (a three-run pinch-hit shot in the ninth against Youngstown State) also went deep before Edman ended things.
"Just as I was walking up to pinch hit they changed pitchers," Taylor said. "They brought in a guy I had faced the night before (and hit a double) and I felt good because I had seen him."
Taylor, a high school quarterback in Texas, says Stanford has something to prove this weekend.
"I feel like we have some unfinished business there," he said.
Taylor came to Stanford as a highly regarded catcher (he was the Texas Player of the Year) but has seen most of his action in the outfield.
"I've always been a catcher," he said. "The outfield was kind of new to me."
Vanderbilt enters the Super Regional having won 15 of its past 21 games. The Commodores beat Oregon twice in last weekend's regional, 7-2 and 3-2. Stanford beat the Ducks, 6-3 and 2-1 in extra innings. Oregon beat the Cardinal, 9-2, in the third game of the series.