By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
For the next couple of weeks, at least, the Stanford baseball team may well become big fans of the California, USC and Washington programs, three of its normally fiercest rivals in the Pac-12 Conference.
How those teams fare over the next two weeks will have a direct impact on the Cardinal as it looks to advance its cause in the standings.
Stanford (11-10, 29-14) hosts Washington State (9-11, 24-20) in yet another crucial conference series this weekend, beginning with Friday's 6 p.m. fireworks' night contest.
As conference plays continues this weekend, 10 of the 11 teams remain in mathematical contention for the Pac-12 crown. Only Utah has been eliminated. There are either six or nine games remaining for everybody and even the eighth-place Cougars are just three games behind conference leader Oregon in the loss column.
The Ducks (16-8, 35-14) appear to be in control of their own destiny, with three-game series remaining against the Trojans (7-13, 22-21) and Oregon State (11-10, 30-16). Winning two of three each weekend would seemingly put Oregon on top.
The Ducks are coming off a weekend in each they won two of three in Arizona. The Wildcats (13-8, 30-15) are hoping to rebound against California (9-12, 25-19) this weekend. They also have a series with USC and a series with Arizona State (14-10, 29-17) remaining to play.
The Sun Devils play Washington (11-10, 26-18) this weekend before taking on Arizona.
Which brings everything around to Stanford, two games back in the loss column and currently sharing fifth place with Washington and Oregon State.
The Cardinal play Utah and California over the final two weekends of conference play, so a big move this weekend would set Stanford up for a big finish. There are no guarantees, though, and most players will tell you every weekend is critical in Pac-12 play.
The Cougars bring the conference's fourth-best hitting team to Sunken Diamond. They are batting .293 as a team with 83 doubles, 16 triples and 27 home runs.
Stanford is sixth in the Pac-12 with a .289 average. The Cardinal has hit 94 doubles, second only to Arizona's 99, 10 triples and a conference-leading 35 home runs.
Washington State is also one of the top fielding teams in the conference, ranking second (.977 fielding percentage) behind Oregon (.978) and ahead of ninth-place Stanford (.964).
The Cardinal has one of the top pitching staffs in the conference, ranking fourth in ERA (3.40) while the Cougars rank 10th (4.67). WSU pitchers are last in strikeouts, averaging about five a game.
Among the individual conference leaders, Austin Wilson is third with 46 runs scored, Stephen Piscotty ranks second with 50 RBI, and Mark Appel is the strikeout leader with 85.
Piscotty leads the Cardinal in hitting at .335, one of four players above the .300 mark. Brian Ragira (.323), Wilson (.308) and Eric Smith (.306) are also in the club. Menlo School grad Kenny Diekroeger is one good game away. He and Alex Blandino are both at .298.
Appel (7-1, 2.72) has been a smashing success as Stanford's Friday night starter, while normal Saturday starter Brett Mooneyham (5-4, 3.98) missed his last outing with the flu. AJ Vanegas (3-0, 2.44) has been getting some weekend starts lately.
Fourth-seeded Stanford (18-1) opens NCAA team tournament play at home Friday with a 2 p.m. match against Stony Brook. Should the Cardinal win, it would take on either Yale or St. Mary's on Saturday at 3 p.m.
Stanford, which is appearing in its 31st consecutive NCAA tournament, has never lost in the opening two rounds at home, and will be heavily favored to advance to the Round of 16 next weekend in Athens, Ga., where the likely opponent will be Northwestern, which has won 13 of its past 15 matches.
The Wildcats (16-7) own wins over Vanderbilt, North Carolina and Notre Dame but have lost to UCLA, Duke and Purdue.
The Irish (20-7) have won six straight and would probably have to beat Northwestern to reach the Round of 16.
Stanford owns a 120-15 record in the postseason since the NCAA Tournament went to its present format in 1982. During that time, Stanford has won 16 of 30 possible NCAA team titles, most recently capturing the 2010 crown with a 4-3 victory over Florida in Athens, Ga.
The 16 national seeds for the NCAA Championships on the women's side are as follows: No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Duke, No. 4 Stanford, No. 5 USC, No. 6 Georgia, No. 7 North Carolina, No. 8 Alabama, No. 9 California, No. 10 Miami, No. 11 Texas, No. 12 Baylor, No. 13 Northwestern, No. 14 Virginia, No. 15 Michigan and No. 16 Mississippi.
Stanford (17-8) makes its 34th all-time NCAA Tournament appearance when first round competition gets underway Saturday.
The Cardinal, which finished third in the Pac-12, might be looking at a rematch with Kentucky in the Round of 16 should the seeding hold.
Stanford upset then-No. 6 Kentucky. 4-1, at the National Team Indoor Championships on Feb. 19.
Stanford will host Sacramento State in the opening round at noon Saturday, with the winner of that match meeting the winner of Texas and Santa Clara in Sunday at noon.
Stanford owns a 100-17 record in the postseason since the NCAA Tournament went to its present format in 1977. During that time, Stanford has won 15 NCAA team titles, with the most recent crown coming back in 2000 after defeating VCU 4-0. The Cardinal reached the NCAA quarterfinal round last year for the first time since 2006, nearly upsetting top-seeded Virginia in a 4-3 loss.
The 16 national seeds for the NCAA Championships on the men's side are as follows: No. 1 USC, No. 2 Georgia, No. 3 Virginia, No. 4 UCLA, No. 5 Ohio State, No. 6 Kentucky, No. 7 Pepperdine, No. 8 Duke, No. 9 Mississippi State, No. 10 Oklahoma, No. 11 Stanford, No. 12 Florida, No. 13 Mississippi, No. 14 California, No. 15 North Carolina and No. 16 Illinois.
Track and field
The main portion of the Pac-12 Championships get under way Saturday at 10 a.m. in Eugene with the women's hammer. Running events start with the men's 400 relay at 1:25 p.m.
The multi-events were held last weekend.
Spencer Chase, Colin Hepburn and Amaechi Morton are each entered in four events, which includes relays. Morton hopes to control the 400 hurdles, his specialty, in addition to running the 400 and 1,600 relays. Chase and Hepburn are in the relays and sprints.
The Cardinal, however, will be counting on its distance crew to score the most points.
On the women's side, Kori Carter, Shataya Hendricks and Carissa Levingston will compete in four events each, which includes both relays. Carter will also run the two hurdles races while Hendricks and Levingston will each run the 100 and 200.