Zach Ashford scores one of his three runs. (Shotgun Spratling)

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Stanford: Fresno, Jensen Impressive; Stanford’s Offense Hot

Postseason

STANFORD, Calif. — Ben Brecht’s first two pitches were strikes. It pretty much went all downhill from there for the UC Santa Barbara starting pitcher and the Gauchos. Fresno State jumped on him early and rode Ryan Jensen’s right arm to a 9-2 victory Friday night at Sunken Diamond in the opening round of the Stanford Regional.

Brecht’s next three offerings were balls, followed by Zach Ashford slapping a single to left field. Carter Bins singled on the first pitch he saw. JT Arruda’s single the other way was on the second pitch. The bases were loaded for the dangerous McCarthy Tatum (.359, 12, 74). Brecht was up 0-2, but Tatum fouled off four straight two-strike pitches. Finally, Brecht got him to pop up, but McCarthy’s shallow fly found no man’s land down the right field line for a station-to-station RBI single.

It was the first of five runs to score in the opening frame. An error allowed the second to come home and elongated the inning. Zach Presno made the Gauchos pay with a two-strike, two-out, two-run single.

“You’ve got to earn everything,” Fresno State head coach Mike Batesole said. “We had some outstanding two-strike at-bats. We hit some breaking balls. I thought he made some good pitches that we hit. We were fighting it out for sure.”

Presno started a first-and-third pickle play, allowing the fifth run to score before he was tagged for the third out.

Bins and Arruda hit back-to-back RBI doubles in the second inning and the rout was on. Brecht got only four outs. He gave up seven runs (four earned) on eight hits.

“He missed middle a lot and they did a good job. They had good at-bats and battled, but he clearly wasn’t very sharp,” UC Santa Barbara head coach Andrew Checketts said. “We’ve got our backs against the wall. I expect we’ll bounce back. Older group, competitive group. They’ve got some pride in how they go about their business. I think they’re a little embarrassed at this point. I suspect that we’ll come back and get after it tomorrow.

Flirtation

Ryan Jensen won his ninth straight start. (Shotgun Spratling)

Brecht’s counterpart was opposite in every way. Fresno State righthander Ryan Jensen flirted with a no-hitter before settling for 7.2 outstanding innings, giving up four hits and two runs. He struck out eight and continued to wow scouts in the stands… (Literally, one scout said ‘Wow!’ several times during a two-inning stretch when Jensen was painting the edges in the early innings.) …with his four-seam fastball that was up to 98 mph and his two-seamer that he often threw 94-96 with upwards of a foot of movement.

Anyone that hadn’t seen him before was impressed and they weren’t the only ones. Fresno State pitching coach Ryan Overland has seen every pitch Jensens’s thrown the last three years, but saw something different as Jensen was warming up before the game.

“I’ll tell you what, about the last 15 pitches he threw in the bullpen I’ve never seen anything like that,” Overland said. “It was pretty electric. It was pretty sharp and it was on. But still you never know how that’s going to carry out onto the field, facing a great lineup like we were.”

He got his answer pretty quickly. Jensen cruised through the UC Santa Barbara lineup the first time, needing 30 pitches in three innings. His first base runners came in the fourth when he hit and walked a batter, but he followed with a three-pitch strikeout of the dangerous Armani Smith to avoid any damage.

When shortstop JT Arruda made a sensational diving catch of a Marcos Castanon liner in the fifth inning, everyone in the stadium started to wonder if Friday night might be one of those rare special nights.

“You can’t help but think it,” Fresno State pitching coach Ryan Overland said. “There was some outstanding defensive plays behind him and when guys are making plays like that, you can definitely keep attacking hitters and going about it the way he was, so that was fun to watch those guys make those plays behind him.”

Castanon’s lineout was the only ball put in play during a six-batter stretch as Jensen started to stack up some strikeouts.

But both his strikeout stretch and the no-hitter came to a close on a 3-2 fastball to Andrew Martinez, who ripped a double down the left field line. Many fans on both sides stood after the play, the Fresno State fans applauding the nearly six innings of no-hit ball while the UC Santa Barbara fans were just happy to finally have something to cheer for.

Jensen’s lights out outing lowered his ERA to 2.88. He has won his last nine starts and is now 12-1.


Cardinal Offense Ready to Roar

Maverick Handley and Will Matthiessen both hit homers. (Shotgun Spratling)

Stanford outfielder Brandon Wulff held back tears last year after the Cardinal were eliminated in the Stanford Regional championship round. The Cardinal had twice lost to Cal State Fullerton with the offense failing to pull its weight. It had scored three runs in the two matchups with the Titans and 11 runs total in four regional games.

“Offensively, we could just never get over the hump,” head coach David Esquer said after the final game. “When we’re at our best, it doesn’t matter who’s pitching.”

On Friday, Wulff and Esquer were both all smiles as the offense erupted in the opening game of the 2019 Stanford Regional. The Cardinal scored as many runs as it had all last postseason, walloping Sacramento State 11-0.

“That’s one of the things that we needed to see. We’re driven a little bit by our offense,” Esquer said.  “At the end of the last year, we cooled down right there at the end at the wrong time, so it’s good to come out in a regional, come out and score some runs and get relaxed at the plate a little. Hopefully, that continues.”

Stanford wanted to heat up, so Esquer elected for the daytime time slot when the regional hosts was asked which game it wanted to play on the first day. When the pairings were revealed on Monday, Sacramento State head coach Reggie Christiansen said he called former assistant Tommy Nicholson, who is now with Stanford. He asked why the Cardinal had elected to play the 1 p.m. time slot rather than the late game that most hosts prefer in order to draw a larger home crowd.

“There’s a reason they wanted to play at 1 o’clock today,” Christiansen said. “[Nicholson] said, ‘Because the ball carries better in the daytime.’ I said, ‘Thanks.’ Certainly, they have some big-time power. Absolutely. Tough to pitch to.”

The Cardinal manufactured a run in the third inning to take a 1-0 lead and then put up a four-spot in the fourth inning. Nick Bellafronto had a two-run double and Maverick Handley ended Sacramento State starting pitcher Scottt Randall’s day with a line drive home run that made it 5-0.

Stanford’s power and the ball carrying in the sunshine were on vivid display in the seventh and eighth innings as it pulled away. Will Matthiessen and Andrew Daschbach launched back-to-back home runs in the seventh inning. Matthiessen hammered a line drive over the left field wall. Daschbach hit his the same direction but absolutely crushed it over at least the first row of trees, if not more.

“It’s the furthest I’ve seen hit here in all my years as a player and assistant coach and now head coach,” Esquer said. “I think it’s the furthest home run I’ve [ever] seen.”

The Cardinal added an exclamation point in the eighth inning. Alec Wilson came off the bench to hit a double. Wulff hit an RBI single and then Nick Oar hit a long fly ball that just kept going and going to left-center field, going beyond the fence while the Sacramento State left fielder crashed into the wall.

Stanford had equaled its run total from last year’s regional appearance and the Cardinal has already quadrupled its home run total from last year (4:1).

Simplifying to Success

Brendan Beck allowed three hits in seven innings. (Shotgun Spratling)

Brendan Beck quietly produced seven scoreless innings. Esquer called it “a Friday-night effort that you have to have.”

Beck had success by simplifying his approach. Instead of using the full complement of his four-pitch mix, he basically attacked Sacramento State with just his fastball and slider. For the first time in his career, Beck said, he didn’t throw a changeup.

“Just kind of mixing inside, outside to just set up another slider, another fastball away,” Beck said. “Just to try and keep them guessing until they really made an adjustment or did some serious damage to start going to other stuff.”

That never happened. The Hornets hit a couple of balls on the button, but hit it right at defenders. Beck was content to let his defense do the work for him.

“There wasn’t any guys we were really scared of,” catcher Maverick Handley said. “It was throw a pitch and trust our defense. Like [Kyle] Stowers’ catch [at the wall to possible steal a home run], it was, for me, almost expected with all the great catches he’s had this year. I think Brendan really utilized his defense. He does a great job of not trying to do too much. He just kind of trusts his stuff and is competitive and is going to come right after you.”

Beck doesn’t have the same “stuff” that his brother Tristan had or the prototypical Pac-12 Friday starter has, but he’s been the guy at the front of Stanford’s rotation all year. Handley says it’s because of his mentality.

“He locates with the best of them. He’s able to live down in the zone and he doesn’t make mistakes that often. That’s why he doesn’t get hurt,” Handley said. “He’ll give up the hits, but those are certain pitches you just can’t do anything else with. You’re not able to drive that pitch over the fence.

“He just knows who he is and he doesn’t try to do more. He could sit there and try to throw low-90s if he wanted to, but it’s not going to be him. He knows that what he does really well is he’s able to locate four pitches wherever he wants. As a hitter, that’s tough. That’s really tough.”

Sidewinder Slows Stanford

Travis Martizia. (Shotgun Spratling)

Sidewinding righthander Travis Martizia calmed the waters behind Sacramento State starter Scott Randall. He came in after Stanford had gone up 5-0 on Handley’s home run and retired the next five guys. He killed the Cardinal hitters with his version of slow, slow and slower, throwing balls that were dipping and diving all over the place.

It was a continuation of the postseason work he started in the WAC tournament last week when he pitched 10.2 scoreless innings over two days, including a pair of four scoreless inning outings in the same day. Martizia picked up two wins and a save, earning All-WAC tournament honors.

“He was outstanding last weekend in our tournament. We’re not sitting here if it’s not for Travis Martizia and the job he done,” Christiansen. “He’s a big part of why we’re here. Today he came in for two and a third [innings] and punched out five. I thought he was really, really good. He’s been a huge part of our bullpen all year long.”

Martizia has now made 29 appearances. The sophomore righthander is 4-1, 3.19, 2 SV.

He eventually was charged with a run when center fielder Bronson Grubbs misplayed a fly ball, turning it into an RBI double, making the score 6-0 and prompting Christiansen to get Martizia out after finishing the frame to have him available again on Saturday.

That’s when the score started to get really ugly.


Top Performances

Sacramento State:

  • Travis Matizia: 2.1 IP, H, ER, BB, 5 K
  • Trevor Doyle: 1-for-3

Stanford:

  • Brendan Beck: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 K
  • Nick Bellafronto: 2-for-3, 2 R, 2B, 2 RBI, BB
  • Maverick Handley: 1-for-2, 2 R, HR, RBI, BB, HBP
  • Will Matthiessen: 2-for-3, R, HR, 2 RBI

Fresno State:

  • Ryan Jensen: 7.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, BB, 8 K; Win
  • Zach Ashford: 3-for-4, 4 R, BB, SB
  • McCarthy Tatum: 3-for-5, R, 2B, 3 RBI
  • Carter Bins: 3-for-5, 2 R, RBI

UC Santa Barbara:

  • Armani Smith: 1-for-3, R, 2B, BB
  • Christian Kirtley: 1-for-1, RBI

Schedule

Elimination Game:

1 p.m. PDT – Sacramento State (RHP Austin Roberts) vs. UC Santa Barbara (LHP Jack Dashwood)

Winner’s Bracket:

7 p.m. – Stanford (RHP Will Matthiessen) vs. Fresno State (RHP Davis Moore)

In Their Own Words

Stanford Post-Game Presser:

Sacramento State Post-Game Presser:


UC Santa Barbara Post-Game Presser:

Fresno State Post-Game Presser:

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