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2017 NCAA Regionals: Kris Bubic Shines Bright On A Diamond

STANFORD, Calif.—In the opening game of Thursday's Stanford Regional against BYU, Cal State Fullerton ace Connor Seabold was terrific. The junior righthander struck out eight without walking anyone and held a potent Cougars’ offense to just two runs over seven innings in a 13-2 Titans’ win. It was a performance to remember. At least until Stanford’s Kris Bubic took the mound in the nightcap against Sacramento State.

It is never easy to one-up a Top 200 MLB Draft prospect—No. 179 to be exact—but the Cardinal ace somehow bested Seabold’s performance, blanking the Hornets and scattering five hits while recording career-highs in innings pitched (eight) and strikeouts (11) as Stanford cruised to a 10-0 win. Sacramento State might not boast the same offensive firepower that BYU does, but the way Bubic was commanding his fastball and putting hitters away with his changeup, it might not have mattered.

The sophomore from nearby San Jose did a good job of spotting a fastball that worked at 88-90 mph and as a result, he was able to use a changeup that Sacramento State coach Reggie Christiansen called “pretty special” to keep the Hornets’ hitters completely off-balance. He was at his best early too, striking out six hitters in the first three innings and using that change-up to generate a lot of swinging strikes.

“Coach (Rusty) Filter definitely knows (the changeup) is my bread and butter. It has been like that all season,” Bubic said. “We can call it early in the count or late in the count, it doesn’t really matter to me, having confidence in it is the main thing.”

The performance was more than enough for Stanford’s offense which, led by outfielder Quinn Brodey (4-for-4 with two home runs), hit four home runs and scored in all but one inning, putting the game out of reach early. Some thought that Sacramento State starter Justin Dillon was good enough to stymie Stanford’s hot bats. But while he did limit The Cardinal to just six hits in 5.1 innings pitched, he was also pitching for the third time in less than two weeks and credited Stanford after the game for capitalizing on his mistakes.

But even if Dillon had been rested and sharp, it still would have been tough to outduel Bubic. The lefthander has been critical to The Cardinal’s success, having supplanted injured righthander Tristan Beck as the team’s Friday night starter at the beginning of the season. But Thursday night, he was better than he has ever been before.

“Kris Bubic was outstanding tonight. It was one of the best outings we have seen against us all season long,” Christiansen said. “He got us caught in between looking fastball and then looking changeup and we just couldn’t stay on the fastball at all. It was a pretty darn good outing by him tonight.”

Of course, Seabold wasn’t too shabby himself for Cal State Fullerton in the earlier game. BYU entered the regional averaging more than eight runs per game and boasted a starting lineup with 67 home runs between them and seven players hitting better .300. But after his teammates spotted him a three-run lead in the bottom of the first inning, Seabold acknowledged that he was able to settle in, and it showed as he carved up the Cougars’ lineup and allowed just one hit through the first four innings.

Based on how aggressive the Cougars’ hitters were early in the count, it was clear that their game plan was to try and attack the fastball early and BYU coach Mike Littlewood confirmed after the game that his team’s approach was to hunt Seabold’s fastball. The only problem was that Seabold’s command was so good that, as Littlewood pointed out, Seabold didn’t give BYU hitters anything worth hitting. None of this came as a surprise to Seabold or Titans’ coach Rick Vanderhook. When told of Littlewood’s remarks and when asked if Seabold’s approach was part of a specific game plan against BYU, Vanderhook and his pitcher exchanged knowing glances.

“That’s how I do it,” Seabold said as Vanderbook laughed.

The pitching show on Thursday sets up an intriguing matchup in the winner’s bracket between Stanford and Cal State Fullerton. The teams opened the season against each other in April and the Titans took two of three from The Cardinal then. But Vanderhook isn’t foolish enough to think that series will have any bearing on the outcome of Friday night's matchup.

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“I know Stanford, we opened up against them this year and they are a lot different now than they were opening weekend,” Vanderhook said. “They have won like 21 of 23 in the Pac-12 and that is no fluke. That’s a good run.”

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