BLOOMINGTON, Ind.—One instant, Indiana was on the verge of hosting a super regional, and its boisterous fans could sense it. With their team protecting a one-run lead and one out in the ninth, the fans were on their feet, chanting, “I-U (clap, clap)! I-U (clap, clap)!”
They were in mid-chant—it might have been somewhere between “I” and “U”—when Tommy Edman silenced them. Stanford’s 5-foot-10 freshman shortstop, a .248 hitter with two home runs on the season, jumped on a first-pitch Scott Effross fastball and deposited it just over the right-field wall. Indiana right fielder Will Nolden made a hopeless leap, then hung onto the top of the wall as the ball sailed a bit out of his reach. He dangled there for a few instants longer, his head sagging over the wall. Eventually he slumped into a heap on the warning track.
Just like that, Stanford had eliminated Indiana, the No. 4 national seed, with a 5-4 stunner. A pregnant pause hung over Bart Kaufman Field, a long, eerie moment while it dawned on everyone in the ballpark that the game was over. A half-hour later, surrounded by his wife and supporters of the program (including former Hoosiers great Alex Dickerson), a dazed Indiana coach Tracy Smith admitted his immediate reaction to the home run was to think, “OK, well, we’ll get them in the bottom of the inning.”
But Stanford was the home team. There are few stranger sensations in baseball then getting walked-off on your own field.
It took the Cardinal a moment to react, too, and then the dugout erupted, the players spilling onto the field to greet Edman in a jumping mass at home plate.
“I think it took us a second because our leadoff hitter just hit a home run,” said ace Cal Quantrill, who earned the win in relief with 2 1/3 innings of work on two days’ rest. “It was wild, incredible. I’m at a loss for words—it was incredible.”
That one swing of the bat ended the sterling college careers of IU’s Kyle Schwarber, Sam Travis, Dustin DeMuth and Joey DeNato, a group that elevated Indiana to new heights, including the program’s first trip to Omaha last year. As the Cardinal celebrated at home plate, Schwarber squatted in a catcher’s position about 15 feet to the right with his head down.
“You don’t really process it. You’re just in a state of awe about what happened and what could have happened and what this team was and what we could have done,” Schwarber said. “We’re going to have a lot of time to think and process what happened. But we can’t hang our heads on what we did through the season. We did a lot of great things through the season. You know, we were the first Big Ten national seed ever. We are going to hold our heads high.”
Stanford, on the other hand, has already managed to accomplish far more than expected. It wasn’t so long ago that Stanford looked like a long shot just to make the NCAA tournament. Even heading into the final weekend of the regular season, there was a sense that the Cardinal needed to sweep a road series at Utah to shore up its at-large hopes. And that’s what it did.
Then the Cardinal lost Saturday to Indiana and had to win three straight games to win the regional. After blowing out Youngstown State 12-4, the Cardinal stunned Indiana on Sunday night by taking the lead on Wayne Taylor’s pinch-hit, three-run homer in the eighth.
Taylor, at least, is a pro prospect well known for his raw power. Edman is far from a slugger, and his walk-off home run was nearly as unlikely as Warren Morris’ famous walk-off shot to win the College World Series for LSU in 1996.
“That at-bat I was just trying to get on base, to be honest,” Edman said. “A home run was the last thing I expected; I was just looking for a pitch I could drive. Luckily I got a fastball I could hit, and put a good swing on it.”
So, improbably, Stanford moves on to a super regional matchup against Vanderbilt, which will be heavily favored, just as Indiana was. Mark Marquess, in his 38th year at Stanford, will remember this one.
“The year’s been really, really special, because we really struggled. We were under .500 for over half the year, with a lot of young pitching especially,” Marquess said. “I’ve coached long enough, there’s been a lot of special teams . . . It’s a very special moment in our baseball program.”