Feb. 10, 2012

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Stanford ready to step up in 2012

By Taylor Gelbrich  @According2Gelby



The time is now for Stanford and juniors Kenny Diekroeger (right), Stephen Piscotty and Mark Appel.


After finishing in the middle of the pack in the Pac-10 for the past two years, the No. 2 recruiting class in the country three years ago enters this season with a top-five ranking.


“Back when I was a freshman, I couldn’t wait for this season to start, and I feel the exact same way [now],” Diekroeger said in January.


The Cardinal has not won the College World Series since winning back-to-back titles in 1987 and 1988. This season, Stanford is stacked and primed not only for competing for a Pac-12 title, but also a national title.


“I think everybody on this team knows that this year is going to be special and not just go for a Pac-12 championship, but also get to Omaha and hopefully win it,” Diekroeger said. “We have so much talent, but also we get along really well as a team, and it’s just really fun to show up to the field every day and play with all the guys.”


Stanford enters the season with preseason All-Americans, back-to-back Pac-10 freshmen of the year, all Pac-10 team members and potential first-round picks in this year’s Major League Draft.


On offense, the Cardinal returns Piscotty (left), Diekroeger, Pac-10 freshman of the year Brian Ragira, Tyler Gaffney, Jake Stewart and Austin Wilson from last year’s team that reached the Super Regionals.


On the mound, it returns Appel, who has the chance to become the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft.


“I don’t know how special we are going to be because we still have to play, but I think we have a lot of junior players that have played a lot, and we have one really special pitcher in Mark Appel,” Cardinal coach Mark Marquess said.


Piscotty, who led Stanford with a .364 average and added three homers and 40 RBI, is an All-Pac-10 first-teamer, preseason All-American and potential first-rounder as a third baseman. He also is expected to close some games this spring.


Diekroeger, a shortstop who hit .293 with two homers and 31 RBI, also is a potential first-round pick and preseason All-American. Six players who earned conference honors last year for Stanford return for this season, including first baseman Ragira (.329/4/46).


“We are very fortunate that our position players are very athletic,” Marquess said. “Offensively that being our strength, there is a lot we can do. I think potentially we can be very good offensively and that athletic ability gives me flexibility to score more runs.”


Stanford is highlighted on the mound by its ace, Appel (right), who was a deceptive 6-7, 3.02 and sits in the low–to-mid 90s and comes back with a good slider and a change-up.


The Cardinal also welcomes back lefty ace Brett Mooneyham from a finger injury that kept him out all of last season and Dean McArdle, who led the Cardinal with seven wins last year.


It wasn’t too long ago when the young freshman Appel was behind Mooneyham, but Appel has come a long way.


“It is leaps and bounds,” Marquess said. “He was kind of thrown into the fire. He was penciled in to be our No. 2 starter after Mooneyham, and when Mooneyham got hurt, Mark became the Friday starter.


“He is a much different pitcher now, he has really matured. To me he is a premier Friday starter.”


Stanford fans have a lot to be excited about and the players can feel it too, but they are going to take it one day at a time.


“If everybody works as hard as they can on their own game, then we are going to be better as a team, and when we are firing on all cylinders, we are going to be a really good team,” Diekroeger said.


Still, there are some questions for this Stanford team going into the season.


The Cardinal needs to replace its starting catcher, closer and several arms out of the bullpen. Look for Piscotty to bolster the closer role when needed. Wayne Taylor, a highly touted freshman out of Houston, will compete for the starting catching job. Another freshman also could make a name for himself.


“Alex Blandino is a very good hitter and can play any of the three infield positions,” Marquess said. “He was impressive in the fall with his bat and his glove. “He will push quite a bit to get some playing time. He probably stood out the most out of the freshman because of his bat.”


Stanford is a talented team that sports a lineup with a .300 average and two premier starters, but it’s not only the numbers and talent that separate it from the rest of the county.


Players credit their coach more than anything.


Marquess (right) has been at the helm for the past 36 years. He has won two national titles, three NCAA Coach of the Year awards, nine Pac-10 Coach of the Year awards and is the seventh-winningest coach of all time, taking 27 teams to the NCAA Tournament.


“Coach Marquess has had quite an impact on Stanford baseball and brings his own personality to the team, and we adopt that as our own,” Appel said. “Hustling on and off the field, being prepared every pitch, not taking a single second off during the game.


“The energy he brings is amazing, and he really gets us energized to go. If it’s 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning and we’re kind of tired and he is up and at it, he expects the same out of us.”


Marquess leads a squad of grinders and gamers. Though talented, the Cardinal can execute and do the small things. Stanford has some aspects of “West Coast” baseball, but in the end, it is just another way to win games. This specific team is very athletic and allows Marquess a variety of ways to play the game.


“We are all about hustle; we run every ball we hit out whether it’s a pop up or a ball in the gap,” Piscotty said. “We don’t necessarily play a cool style of baseball, but we are a team that when people come out to watch us, we want them to recognize how hard we hustle whether things are going good or bad.”


Most anticipate more good than bad. And most envision a team that is bound for Omaha.


“It would be a lot of fun and it would mean a lot to the program and a lot to the school. I think the guys on the team deserve it because we have work hard enough to get there, but our focus can’t be on going to Omaha,” said Appel “We've got to worry about today; we've got to worry about tomorrow. I know a lot of us are juniors and the draft is coming around the corner but we have a full season to take care of before that.”


(photos by Zach Sanderson of StanfordPhoto.com)