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May 26, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Cardinal moves back Cardinal moves back (May 26, 2004)into Pac-10 lead

Ash's big outing in 8-2 victory over USC on Sunday puts Stanford in control of own destiny going into big series with ASU

by Rick Eymer

Jonny Ash needed some rehab to get his timing back after missing three weeks to a broken left index finger.

It took all of one day and Ash smoothly worked his way back into the Stanford lineup as the Cardinal took control of their own destiny in the Pac-10 baseball race by winning two of three games from visiting USC over the weekend.

Stanford moved into first place in the conference after beating the Trojans, 8-2, on Sunday. Stanford also won Saturday, 5-4, after dropping Friday night's opener, 9-3.

The Cardinal (14-7, 42-11) can clinch a tie for the conference title with one win, and claim the outright crown with two victories this weekend as Arizona State visits for the final regular-season series beginning Friday at 6 p.m..

Washington (15-9), UCLA (12-9) and the Sun Devils (12-9) all have a chance to share in the conference title depending upon what happens this weekend. Stanford is in the driver's seat with two fewer losses than anyone else in the Pac-10.

"We control it, you can't ask for more than that," said Stanford coach Mark Marquess. "But Arizona State will be tough. It will be a big series."

Stanford will likely host a regional the weekend of June 4-6 even if it should finish second in the Pac-10, but an outright conference would probably guarantee the Cardinal the chance to host a regional for a ninth straight season.

Ash's return to the lineup came at a good time. Stanford had lost two straight conference series, and fell into second place by a half-game.

"Ash picked us up with his bat," said Marquess. "He was our offense. That was a big lift."

Ash suffered the injury while successfully bunting in a game against Washington State on April 30. He didn't see live pitching again until taking batting practice last Thursday.

All he did was go 6-for-13 for the series, and matched a career high with four RBI on Sunday. He improved his season average to .382.

"My timing was off a little bit, but the hardest thing to do is catch the ball," Ash said. "I'm just happy to be back in the lineup to be honest."

Having a full complement of players helps as Stanford seeks to not only win the Pac-10 title but gain momentum in its bid for a sixth straight trip to the College World Series.

"You never go through a season with everything going exactly right," said Ash. "Winning this series helps put us back on track. We know we control our own destiny. If we take care of the league, the postseason will take care of itself. We can put ourselves in position to host."

Freshman Matt Leva, the first of four pitchers, earned the win after retiring 12 of the 13 batters he faced through four innings. He did not allow a hit but Marquess had already determined he'd be on a short leash.

"I told him before he wouldn't go more than four innings so he was geared for that," said Marquess. "I didn't want to second guess myself."

Stanford has nine pitchers who have made at least 10 appearances this season, and seven who have started a game. After Mark Romanczuk and Jeff Gilmore, it's become a mix-and-match staff.

Leva made himself a prominent figure in that mix.

"I'm satisfied," he said of Sunday's outing. "Hopefully I can go further into a game. I think I need to build endurance a little more."

Danny Putnam recorded a hit in each game to extend his streak to a career-high 13 games. Brian Hall, mired in a 4-for-30 slump, got hits in his final two at bats on Sunday.

Chris Minaker had two hits and drove in two runs.

David O'Hagan (6-1) got the win in relief of Gilmore on Saturday as Putnam and Sam Fuld each had two hits.

Stanford scored twice in the eighth to record its 18th comeback victory. Pinch hitter John Hester doubled with two outs, and Fuld grounded a single up the middle to score pinch-runner Chris Lewis.

Fuld came all the way around to score on the play when the ball rolled past USC center fielder Daniel Perales as he was trying to come up with the ball for a possible play at the plate on Lewis.

"My approach was just that I needed a single to tie up the game," said Fuld. "Once I hit it, I was out of the box quickly, because on a play like that you want to try to get to second, especially if the centerfielder makes a high throw (to the plate). I was running hard all the way and then when I saw it get under his glove, I just kept running hard. In my mind, I didn't think there was any chance I was going to score. I was just thinking about getting to third but coach (Dean) Stotz kept waving me in and I scored."

Jed Lowrie had three hits and two RBI in Friday's loss, which snapped Stanford's 16-game home winning streak.

The Cardinal started another home winning streak on Saturday, a streak they hope will lead them to Omaha.

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