Reggie Christiansen knows this place.
The Sacramento State baseball coach used to parade kids through energized drills for youth camps across Klein Field at famed Sunken Diamond, home of the Stanford Cardinal. He did so while coaching last decade at nearby Menlo College of the NAIA.
Christiansen was back here Thursday, this time as a visitor for an upstart Division I program with the aim of turning this NCAA Regional upside down as the No. 4 seed, and, really, the longest shot to win.
Sac State’s hot bats cooled, and so did its venerable ace, and that allowed Stanford to pounce and prevail. On the strength of three towering solo home runs, two by Quinn Brodey, and a two-run blast in the seventh by Matt Winaker and a gem by left-hander Kris Bubic, the Cardinal routed the Hornets 10-0 in an opener of the double-elimination tournament.
Christiansen was positively giddy to draw the Cardinal, knowing that in this sport anything goes, and that this was the first night game of the NCAA postseason as the other regionals start Friday. And the Hornets’ eight-game winning streak added to the optimism.
“It’s perfect,” Christiansen said before the game of the setting and historical significance. “I got my start at Menlo College. I worked those camps. The Stanford coaches helped me with my career. It’s pretty cool to come back.”
Stanford (41-14), winner of eight consecutive games and 22 of 24, scored a run in each of the first four innings, including a homer by Jack Klein in the second off Justin Dillon who was coming off a Western Athletic Conference tournament MVP showing with two victories. Bubic struck out a career-high 11 as Stanford moved to 24-13 all time against the Hornets. This was the first meeting between the programs since 2009.
Dillon struck out five in his 5 2/3 innings of work, and a throng of Sac State fans greeted him with a standing ovation as he headed to the dugout. Dillon, a senior from Placerville, had endured arm and groin injuries in his career but produced his strongest season.
Dillon said he was moved by the fans’ support though upset he wasn’t at his best.
“It was emotional for me,” Dillon said. “I felt like I let the team down, but the ovation really hit me. Stanford’s a great team. They took advantage of me.”
Winaker’s blast made it 8-0, and Brodey’s second bomb made it 9-0 to advance the Cardinal to Friday’s round to play Fullerton, which routed BYU 13-2 in Thursday’s early game. Sac State (32-28) will face BYU (37-20) on Friday at 1 p.m.
While Sac State is in its second NCAA postseason in three years with one victory, this is old hat for Stanford. Really old hat. The Cardinal have won 16 of 29 regional titles. Under retiring coach Mark Marquess, Stanford is in the postseason for the 30th time with the intent of reaching the College World Series for the 15th time.
Marquess casts quite a shadow here. The only jersey number to be retired by the program is his No. 9, which is stitched in red on a white flag that whips on the Klein Field center-field upper wall. A No. 9 is painted in white behind the plate. And he’s a simple man. He hand writes his practice schedules in an era of computer print outs, and he carries his signature briefcase to the dugout for work every day.
“He’s one of the best of all time,” Christiansen said. “To stay at one school the whole time is tremendous. He’s done a remarkable job.”
Christiansen said after the loss, “we’re excited to be here but we expect to win. There are a lot of disappointed people in our dugout. They want to get to Saturday.”
The coach said of his ace, Dillon, “five years with this guy. He’s a big reason we’re here. I love him.”