Stanford falls in Florida

            The 2012 Stanford Cardinal seemed like a team of destiny.

            At the outset of the season, the Cardinal were ranked as one of the top teams in the nation. They carried a No. 2-ranking through most of non-conference play, and after an 8-0 start, even spent a week at No. 1.

            Pac-12 conference play had a swift hand in altering Stanford’s destiny, however.

            The Cardinal ultimately had their national-championship hopes dashed this weekend, falling in Super Regional play for the second straight season. No. 3-ranked Florida State not only swept Stanford in Tallahassee, Fla. The Seminoles administered a thrashing, outscoring Stanford 17-1 in Game 1 Friday, before advancing to Omaha with an 18-7 win in Game 2 Sunday.

            Certainly, there were factors aplenty that caused Stanford’s downfall. The most significant factor heading into play in the best-of-three series, though, was the home-field advantage. Both teams were powerhouses on their respective home turf this season. Stanford produced a 27-7 record at Sunken Diamond; Florida State a 32-5 record at Dick Howser Stadium.

            And earlier this year, while on the precipice of conference play, the Cardinal were in the driver’s seat of navigating this factor – a direct course from Sunken Diamond to Omaha theirs for the taking. Then the Cardinal plummeted in Pac-12 play. Stanford lost two of its first four series this season – being swept in Arizona, before dropping two of three to Oregon.

            Stanford would rebound by going 12-5 in conference thereafter, but the damage was done. The Cardinal had fallen out of the top eight, never to return – by virtue of which, they were no longer guaranteed home-field advantage in a potential Super Regional.

            While the Cardinal swept their regional last weekend, all eyes were on Florida State. When the Seminoles swept their regional as well, the writing was on the wall. Stanford would be forced to travel to a humid climate that couldn’t be more different than that of their West Coast home, to play a Florida State team that couldn’t be more acclimated and poised to capitalize on such a home-field advantage.

            Leaving behind a picturesque weekend of sunny blue-skied baseball weather in the Bay Area, Stanford played in the sweltering and sticky Tallahassee heat, with thunderstorms wreaking havoc on the Super Regional schedule.

            Ace right-hander Mark Appel came undone Friday while uncharacteristically being drenched in sweat throughout his abbreviated four innings of work. Play was suspended Saturday because of heavy rains. Sunday, Florida State never looked like a team that could lose – with the exception of one at bat in the seventh inning when Stanford junior Stephen Piscotty came to the plate representing the tying run with the Cardinal trailing 10-6.

            Coming up to bat with the bases loaded amid a four-run rally, it seemed the stage was set for a poetic date with redemption for Piscotty. Now an outfielder, it was Piscotty’s erratic third-base defense last season throughout the Super Regional at North Carolina that cost Stanford so dearly en route to a two-and-out sweep at the hands of the Tar Heels. Piscotty, however, could not write the unthinkable story of redemption, instead rolling over for an anticlimactic groundout to – of all places – third base.

            And so, the 2012 Stanford Cardinal finished two crucial victories short of their first trip to Omaha since 2008, and a shot at their first national championship since 1988.

            It was a season to remember, with Stanford posting a 41-18 record, the 21st time in history a Cardinal baseball team has eclipsed the 40-win mark.

            Only, it was not a team of destiny.


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