Uploaded: Thursday, June 7, 2012, 3:28 PM
Stanford is well-armed for NCAA Super Regional
|By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Albert James (A.J.) Vanegas met one of his future Stanford teammates at a high school baseball. Nothing formal, just a casual meeting at second base.
Vanegas, who played for Redwood Christian, pulled into second after hitting a double. The opposing second baseman came up to him and asked, "So, you're going to Stanford?"
It was Menlo School's Danny Diekroeger, who was also headed to Stanford that fall to join older brother Kenny Diekroeger.
"I remember facing Danny," Vanegas said. "I remember him being a scrappy hitter, always fouling off good pitches. He was a tough out every time."
Vanegas, who has grabbed the closer's role with the Cardinal this season, usually didn't have many problems in high school. He was considered a potential high pick in the Major League Baseball draft two years ago. He already had made the decision to attend college, though the San Diego Padres made him their seventh-round pick.
He appeared in eight games, four starts, for Yarmouth-Dennis in last summer's Cape Cod League and was 0-1 with a 4.13 ERA over 24 innings. Vanegas has also played for the U.S. junior national team program.
These days he's become the face of the Cardinal bullpen. He earned all-region honors after striking out eight over 3 2/3 innings of last Saturday's game against Pepperdine.
"Before the regional we were watching ESPN and they started talking about how after Mark (Appel) and Brett (Mooneyham), Stanford didn't have anybody to back them up. They said it was not a deep pitching staff," Vanegas said. "We took that as motivation and we wanted to answer that."
All the Stanford bullpen did -- with Vanegas, Dean McArdle and Sahil Bloom -- was to combine for 9 1/3 scoreless innings, a win and a save. The trio allowed four hits, walked four and struck out 11 to help the Cardinal close the regional on the right foot.
That group hopes to keep it going this weekend when Stanford (41-16) opens a best-of-3 series with host Florida State in an Super Regional in Tallahassee (4 p.m., ESPN2).
"Our bullpen is deep," Vanegas said. "(David) Schmidt has been the closer, Garrett (Hughes) has had a good year. AJ Talt, a submariner, just gets outs. (John) Hochstatter and (Spenser) Linney are a couple of good lefthanders, too."
Vanegas (4-0, 2.24) has thrown just over 60 innings on the year and has made five starts in addition to owning five saves. He has recorded 47 strikeouts.
Vanegas started the year as the No. 3 starter, but was regulated to the bullpen after a couple of so-so outings.
"It felt like a demotion because I had to face some adversity there," Vanegas said. "But coach (Rusty) Filter never stopped believing in us and as it happened, the closer/reliever role fit me."
It seemed as though someone was always stepping forward when Stanford needed a stopper and Vanegas has filled that role a number of times this year.
"I like starting. It's cool to go six innings," Vanegas said. "But I also enjoy coming into those big situations, which are just as important."
Stanford will bring a staff ERA of 3.22 into the Super Regional, along with a team batting average of .290. The Seminoles (46-15) have a team ERA of 3.52 and batting average of .290. Oh yeah, they are also 31-5 at home.
"They just win," Stanford coach Mark Marquess said. "They are used to winning, especially at home. They may not be as talented as they have been, but they expect to win."
Vanegas said the experience of playing at North Carolina last year will help when the team travels to another Super Regional away from home.
"Last year showed us just how valuable it is to have a home crowd," he said. "The momentum would swing to North Carolina any time they did something good and it was difficult to stay on any kind of a roll because of it. You just can't get too hyped up. You have to maintain focus."
Appel (10-1, 2.27) said there were several road series last season that have given Stanford valuable experience, including trips to Texas and Vanderbilt.
"We lost a lot of close games and now we know what it takes," he said. "Any team we play is deserving and is capable of beating any other team in the country."
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