This is a Big Weekend in Berkeley and Palo Alto. The Cal and Stanford teams are meeting in a couple of venues, and there is always something a little extra at stake when Blue and Gold sees red. The settings are Stanford's Cobb Track and Angell Field for the Big Meet on Saturday and Evans Diamond for the Big Series (three games, Friday, Saturday and Sunday). Track (and field) and baseball are the sports involved and both sides are gearing up.
“Life stops for a week,” Cal track coach Tony Sandoval said last Saturday after his teams (men and women) hosted a triangular meet against Michigan and Virginia. “This was exciting, but next week everything stops. After last year we won both sides, I am absolutely sure that Stanford has planned all year long to come with all their barrels loaded so it will be a very emotional, very intense meet. It always has been. It's exciting where everybody gets involved in all the events. You talk about a three-hour meet, fans love that. And you get a score at the end of the meet.
And Stanford didn't like the scores a year ago, as the Bears swept the men's and women's for the first time since 2000. The men won, 113-48, while the women's score was 97-66. “As I told the kids, there have been some times when we should have won and didn't, and times when we won and maybe shouldn't have, so it is always kind of special,” Sandoval said after last year's double victory. “The kids knew the significance of it and stepped up one event after another and had some people that did step up and did a tremendous job,”
The Bears had heavy graduation losses and could be hard-pressed to repeat the sweep. However, they did come through with 23 personal bests last week and will be favorites to repeat this time, certainly on the men's side.
Things are much the same in baseball, both in attitude and prospects. “It (playing Stanford) does mean a lot, it always will,” said coach David Esquer, himself a Stanford grad, said. “I think people pay attention to that weekend and pay attention to that rivalry. It almost is unspoken. When it's Stanford, when you go down there or they come here you have that feeling that it matters just a little extra. And it matters a lot to the Cal and Stanford communities so you know you are carrying that to the park too.”
“You want to win every game, you want to win every series,” Cal pitcher Dylan Nelson told the San Francisco Chronicle. “But when Stanford comes in, you definitely want to give them an extra kick or two and really take it to them.”
Hit by injuries, Stanford is not its usual powerhouse. Long-time coach Mark Marquess, whose run of success borders on the surreal, has been on the job at his alma mater for an astounding total of 39 years. He's compiled a record of 1,530-807-7, with 27 NCAA tournament appearances, 14 trips to the College World Series, and two national titles.
This year, though, Stanford is 12-18 and winless in the Pac-12 at 0-9. They have already lost to Cal, dropping a game 11-1 on Feb. 16. It did not count in the conference standings, but didn't do much for the Cardinal's ego. Still, as Esquer says, the Bears (21-9, 8-4)are not good enough to take anyone lightly, as they found out last weekend when they lost two out of three to lowly Washington State. It was the Bears first series loss since they dropped two out of three to Duke to open the season.
A closer look at each matchup
An intriguing battle is looming in the men's sprints. Cal's Muhammad Khalfani will likely match up against Stanford's Isaiah Brandt-Simms in a battle to two-sport athletes. Muhammad, who won both the 100 and 200 in the triangular meet, is a running back on the Cal football team. Brandt-Simms, a wide receiver, is a freshman who red-shirted for the football team last fall. One of the great sprinters ever to come out of the state of Washington, Brandt-Simms ran a 21.52 200 meters at the Stanford Invitational last weekend. Muhammad clocked 21.28.
Cal's Thomas Joyce a double winner in the 1,500 and 3,000 will have to contend with a deep Stanford distance contingent that includes Erik Olson, Sean McGorty and brothers Joe and Jim Rosa.
In the woman's weight events, where the Cardinal has a decided edge Stanford's Lena Giger won the shot put at the Stanford Invitational with a throw of 51-2 ¼ and Rebecca Hammar threw the discus 182-7. Cal's Destiny Parker and Ginika Iwuchukwu are the Bears' top respective entrants, but their bests are well short of their Stanford counterparts.
On the women's track Cal's standout freshman Bethan Knights will be tested by Stanford's Jessica Tonn in the 3,000 meters.
Stanford coach Chris Miltenberg has a wild card in freshman Harrison Williams who nearly broke the school record in the decathlon two weeks ago. “Harrrison will help out in a bunch of different events,” Miltenberg told the San Jose Mercury News.
Stanford has lost its entire three-man starting rotation to injuries. Most devastating was the injury to sophomore Cal Quantrill, expected to be the ace of the staff and a pre-season All-American in some circles. He managed to appear in just three games and compile a 2-0 record with a 1.93 ERA before the Cardinal shut him down. He underwent Tommy John surgery on March 20 and is done for the year.
The other two projected starters, Marc Brekeman and John Hoschstatter are also on the shelf, although they might return. That leaves Brett Hanewich (1-3, 3.79 to start the first game, and goodness knows who in games two and three. It is a good bet that either one or both freshmen Andrew Summerville and Keith Weisenberg will get some consideration. The pair combined to no-hit Pacific for eight innings in a non-league Stanford victory on Tuesday
Outfielder Zach Hoffpauir, who missed 23 games with a wrist injury, is back but is hitting just .173. However, he swung the bat better against UOP and produced an RBI single. The two-sport star who is also a safety on the football team, hit .324 in 59 games a year ago.
Stanford's leading hitter is third baseman Mikey Diekroger who averages .318. Second baseman Tommy Edman is a decent leadoff man and is third in the Pac-12 with ten doubles.
Stanford certainly does not have much power. As a team the Cardinal have just eight home runs.
Cal has reinserted sophomore Daulton Jefferies, in the top starter spot. He is scheduled to open for the Bears on Friday. He missed a month because of tendinitis, but pitched three innings of relief against WSU and was deemed ready to start. Esquer will limit Jefferies to 60 pitches with freshman Jeff Bain, who did an excellent job assuming the “Friday starter” job while Jefferies was on the shelf, ready to relieve.
The Bears will honor the 1980 team that advanced to the College World Series, before Saturday's game.