Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - March 26, 2010

Cardinal set for USC in opener

Pries is looking forward to getting Pac-10 season under way this weekend

by Rick Eymer

Stanford right-hander Jordan Pries has been counting the days to the Pac-10 baseball opener. He won't have long to wait. The sophomore pitcher will make a start in one of the three games against visiting USC as the conference season gets underway.

The No. 23 Cardinal and Trojans are set to begin action Friday at 5:30 p.m., followed by 1 p.m. games Saturday and Sunday.

The Pac-10 is loaded, but that's nothing new for a conference that has a combined 26 national titles and another 11 runnerup trophies since the beginning of the College World Series in 1947.

"Top to bottom the Pac-10 is going to be one of the best in the country," Pries said. "And we're right there with everybody."

In a conference dominated by pitchers, Pries (2-1, 3.33) can stand with the best of them after throwing a two-hit shutout against Pepperdine last Saturday. He's one of 21 Pac-10 pitchers with an ERA of 3.50 or lower. Five starters — Oregon's Alex Keudell, UCLA's Garett Claypool, Oregon's Tyler Anderson, Oregon State's Tanner Robles and Oregon State's Matt Boyd all have an ERA of 1.77 or lower.

UCLA's Gerrit Cole, Arizona State's Jake Borup and Arizona State's Merrill Kelly are all 5-0.

"This was the first day I felt good and trusted my pitches," Pries said after his 7-0 victory over the Waves last weekend. "I was more relaxed and I want to carry that into the Pac-10 season."

Stanford (10-5) was picked to finish fourth in a conference where nine of the 10 teams, including the Trojans (11-10) have winning records entering conference play.

The Cardinal, which hit .375 last weekend in its sweep of Pepperdine, is hitting .309 as a team. Three freshmen are hitting over .300. Infielder Stephen Piscotty, who has started in left and at first, is batting a team-best .383 with a team-leading 18 runs, Tyler Gaffney (.367) has a .600 slugging percentage and Menlo School grad Kenny Diekroeger (.347) has driven in 12 and scored 16 runs.

"It's good to see the bats coming alive heading into Pac-10s," Diekroeger said. "I know the league is deep in pitching and we've been picking it up and coming together."

Arizona State and UCLA enter the weekend with a combined 37-0 mark. The rest of the conference is a combined 103-50.

"It's good to get on a roll before the conference season starts," Diekroeger said.

Stanford remains at home for a Monday night nonconference game against USF at 5:30 p.m.

The Cardinal has reached double figures in hits in eight straight games.

Stanford's bullpen has eight of the team's 10 wins entering the week, led by Alex Pracher's 3-0 record and two saves. Pracher has a 2.19 ERA in eight appearances, Mark Appel has a 3.86 ERA and 2-0 record in seven games.

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