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June 09, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The season The season (June 09, 2004)is over too early

Two losses to LBS ends Stanford's quest for trip to CWS

by Rick Eymer

The Stanford baseball team will have to be forgiven if it doesn't seem to know what to do with itself the next couple of weeks. Sunday's 8-4 loss to Long Beach State was the earliest Stanford had its baseball season end since May 23, 1998.

The nationally No. 1-ranked Cardinal (46-14) won't be going to their sixth straight College World Series, nor will they be hosting their sixth straight Super Regional. Instead, they will try to pick up the pieces of a broken regional and start another journey toward Omaha.

Seniors Sam Fuld, Jonny Ash, Brian Hall, David O'Hagan, and Drew Ehrlich won't be making the trip again, unless it's as interested alumni. Juniors Danny Putnam and Chris Carter are also likely gone to professional baseball, as well.

What remains are Pac-10 Player of the Year and All-American second baseman Jed Lowrie, and potential All-American John Mayberry, Jr. along with a host of role players and potentially one of the most talented pitching staffs in the country.

The top two pitchers return in Mark Romanczuk and Jeff Gilmore, along with a handful of freshman pitchers like Matt Leva who could compete for starting roles.

"The freshmen pitchers have a chance to do a lot of really good things," said O'Hagan, who took the loss in his final appearance in a Cardinal uniform. "They can't take any outing for granted."

No matter where O'Hagan, who won 13 games and lost just three in his career with Stanford, winds up next season, he'll be thinking about his former teammates during the season.

"I hope these guys win it all," he said. "I'm going to root for Stanford the rest of my life. It's been a pleasure to play at Stanford. I came in and I didn't know how much of an impact I was going to make. But it's been very exciting to play here. I'll probably be able to look back in a few weeks, maybe when the College World Series is being played, and remember some of the great games we played during my career here."

This year's Stanford Regional probably won't be among those O'Hagan recalls with much fondness. His only appearance lasted 2 2/3 innings in the final game.

Stanford did win twice, beating UNLV 10-4 in Friday's opener as sophomore Jeff Gilmore pitched a complete game. The Cardinal also staved off elimination on Saturday night by beating St. John's, 7-1, as Leva threw his first career complete game.

Lowrie and Carter were named to the all-regional team.

It was just a pair of losses to Long Beach State -- 7-4 on Saturday -- that keeps Stanford from another possible trip to the College World Series.

Funny thing: the last time Stanford didn't reach Omaha, it was Long Beach State that ended the Cardinal's season, 5-1, on that day in May in 1998.

"It's difficult to be up right now because we're disappointed but this is a great team," said Stanford coach Mark Marquess. "We won a lot of close games and things went our way all season. The difference today was Long Beach State."

Stanford won 36 of the first 42 games of the season before finishing 10-8. Despite winning the Pac-10 title, the Cardinal lost two late road series at Arizona and Washington.

The trio of Lowrie, Mayberry and Putnam, the heart of Stanford's order, hit a combined .269 in the regional with 12 RBI. For the season, Lowrie finished at .399 (seventh all-time single-season), Mayberry at .333 and Putnam at .378.

Fuld finished his career as Stanford's all-time runs leader with 268, and all-time at bats leader with 1,071. He had 356 hits, 12 shy of John Gall's school and Pac-10 career record. He played 260 games at Stanford, the 253 in succession.

He won't be able to add to his total, but Fuld is also the all-time College World Series hits leader with 24.

"Baseball is such a fluky game and things like this happen," said Fuld. "Over the four years, we've had some tough obstacles and faced tight situations where we were lucky enough to go our way. We put ourselves in position again this year but things didn't go our way. We had a great season but when it comes down to so few games it's tough and this kind of stuff happens."

Said Ash: "Ending our season like this and not excelling in the postseason like we plan on doing and we work so hard on doing, it's going to be disappointing."

On Saturday, Long Beach State's Jered Weaver beat his old summer roommate in Mark Romanczuk. The two roomed together with Team USA in 2003.

Putnam was also Weaver's teammate on Team USA, which participated in the Pan American Games last summer. He didn't spend as much with Weaver as Romanczuk did, however, as the two pitchers formed a bond during their time away from home.

"When you're playing with Team USA you're never at home, so we roomed together every night and talked a lot about pitching, and everything," said Romanczuk. "I learned a lot from him. He's put together three good years and we often talked about hitters, his mental approach and how he responds to adversity."

The two pitchers remained in close contact by telephone throughout the season, never thinking about possibly meeting in an important game during the postseason. It was just friends keeping in touch.

When Long Beach State arrived at Stanford earlier this week, Romanczuk and Weaver knew they may face each other but that didn't stop them from getting together on Thursday night to reminisce about things.

Leva, meanwhile, came up huge for the Cardinal, throwing his first career complete game against the Red Storm on Saturday night. He allowed two runs on seven hits with a walk and five strikeouts.

"I knew how important it was," said Leva. "In the past I'd get in trouble early. This time I kept my pitch count down."

Mayberry hit a thunderous two-run homer and drove in three runs. Mayberry teed off with a 500-foot home run in the fifth that disappeared into the night over the light standard beyond the left field fence.

Mayberry slammed another homer in Sunday's finale, but it was just a one-run shot and it proved too little too late. The game already was all but wrapped up by Long Beach, which produced three two-run homers in its first three hits and led 6-1.

From there, it was just a matter of counting down the outs. Stanford never got untracked, never came up with the clutch hit and rarely escaped an inning without giving up a run.

When Hall grounded out to end the game, the Stanford seniors experienced something they had yet to endure during their careers - being eliminated on their own field.

This experience also was new for Marquess, who won't be spending next weekend hosting a Super Regional, or making plans on taking his team to the College World Series.

"I'm sure my wife will have plenty for me to do," Marquess said with a weak smile.

But, not as exciting as competing for a national championship.

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