Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - May 25, 2012

Making a pitch for first

Double-threat Piscotty could help Cardinal with its title hopes

by Rick Eymer

Stephen Piscotty and Brian Ragira have been Stanford's most consistent offensive players this season. Piscotty may well be adding pitching to that list of consistencies.

The 11th-ranked Cardinal (37-14, 17-10 in the Pac-12) brings an eight-game winning streak into this weekend's final regular-season series with visiting California and Piscotty owns two of those victories.

He'll likely make his third start in Sunday's season finale as Mark Appel (9-1) will start Friday night's game (5:30 p.m.) and Brett Mooneyham (7-4) will probably go Saturday.

"We just want to come out prepared," Piscotty said. "It's all about the win. We're going to do what we do and hope for a good result."

Piscotty, who has played multiple positions while at Stanford, has made a big impression on the good

folks who handle such matters as the John Olerud Award, presented to college baseball's top two-way player. Piscotty is a finalist for the honor.

The team leader in batting average (.335) and RBI (53), Piscotty is also 4-2 with a 2.25 ERA in 10 pitching appearances. He also has a save, for good measure. Only Ragira (73) has more hits than Piscotty (70) and only Appel and Mooneyham have more wins.

Piscotty's pitching prowess may surprise some, though others saw something even as late as the Alaska Summer League in 2010, when he was used in relief a handful of times. He was 7-3 with a 1.77 ERA as senior at Amador Valley High in Pleasanton, though the Cardinal was more interested in the .433 batting average and 28 RBI. He was recruited as an infielder.

Piscotty learned he would be making his first start against Washington State less than 16 hours before first pitch.

"There were rumors during the week," he said. "I was excited to do it. It was awesome. I wasn't worried about striking anybody out. I did not want to let them get any free bases."

Sunday's game against the Bears could be for a shot at first place in the Pac-12 Conference. Stanford enters play two games back of conference leader Oregon, which plays Oregon State in its final regular-season series. UCLA holds second, a game back of the Ducks, while the Cardinal shares third with Arizona and Arizona State. There may not be an out-of-town scoreboard to watch, but there is internet access and there will be plenty of interest in other conference games all weekend.

Also important is Stanford trying to position itself to host a regional the first week of June. The Cardinal carries an RPI rating of 12 heading into the weekend. Stanford would like to hold that spot or improve it if possible to secure a bid.

The latest ratings have Florida, Florida State, UCLA, Baylor and Oregon as the top five. Rice ranks No. 11. What happens with the Owls, Bruins and Ducks will affect the Cardinal. The NCAA regional sites will be announced Sunday, with the NCAA field coming out Monday.

Piscotty and Ragira have been important to Stanford's success all year, yet contributions from part-time players have also played a key role. From Christian Griffiths helping the Cardinal sweep Vanderbilt in the first series of the year, through Justin Ringo's walk-off home run against Rice, all the way to the emergence of Alex Blandino, Danny Diekroeger and Dominic Jose, it's hardly been a one- or two-man wrecking crew.

The latest to emerge is Jake Stewart, a mainstay in the lineup his first two years. He went nine games without starting in April and had seemingly lost his starting job.

He's regained his form over the past nine games, hitting at a .414 clip (12 for 29) to raise his average to its current .299. Stewart has hit safely in eight of his last nine games, culminated by a 4-for-4 effort, including two home runs, in Stanford's 10-5 nonconference win over host Santa Clara on Tuesday.

"I was just trying to get on base every single time up," Stewart said. "That's what a leadoff hitter's job is."

Stewart credited his resurgence to working with assistant coach Brock Ungricht.

"I've been working with him on my swing and just relaxing," Stewart said. "It helps getting back into the lineup and getting into that rhythm."

Stanford hopes to keep the rhythm going this weekend.

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