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March 9, 2008

Ratliff, Stanford surge past Texas

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AUSTIN, Texas As the fifth all-time winningest program in college baseball history, many were surprised in 2007 when Stanford finished near the bottom of the Pac-10 and failed to make the postseason.

The hiatus shouldn't last long.

Barring a major surprise in the coming weeks, it's safe to say Stanford is back in business.

Backed by several impressive offensive performances Sunday afternoon, the Cardinal pelted Texas pitching on the way to a 12-9 victory in the series finale.

Stanford won the series 2-1.

"It was obviously our day as we hit the ball hard and scored some runs," Stanford coach Mark Marquess said. "Even the balls we didn't hit hard fell in. From the first inning on, we did a good job of putting runs on the board."

The Cardinal forced the Longhorns to go to their bullpen early by scoring five runs in the first inning. They also tacked on another run in the second inning to put the hometown 'Horns in an early hole.

Stanford never looked back.

Though several Cardinal players had productive performances at the plate, nobody had a more impressive afternoon than junior outfielder Sean Ratliff.

Ratliff earned a plethora of accolades last season, but was off to a less than stellar start before the Texas series. Entering Sunday's game against the Longhorns, the veteran was hitting just .270 with a home run and five RBIs.

On Sunday, those numbers took a turn for the better. Ratliff went 4-for-5 with a double, triple and a pair of homers. He also scored three runs and knocked in five runs.

Texas coach Augie Garrido was impressed with what Ratliff brought to the table.

"He looked very good and hit some great pitches," he said. "Essentially, he put the bat on the ball and did a great job of hitting it where it needed to be."

Marquess echoed Garrido's sentiments.

"I thought Sean had a great day at the plate," he said. "He's a big-time player and had a big-time performance today."

Ratliff also breathed a sigh of relief. After entering the series with less than stellar numbers, the 6-foot-3, 225 pound junior is now hitting .333.

"I had been struggling before today, so it's great to finally get in the swing of things," Ratliff said. "I had been pulling the ball a bit. Today, I drove the ball and put things together."

While Ratliff led the offensive cause, leadoff hitter Cord Phelps went 2-for-4 with a double, home run, three runs scored and an RBI. Meanwhile, first baseman Randy Molina added a pair of hits while Austin Yount went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and an RBI.

After letting Texas set the tone in game one Friday afternoon, the Cardinal returned the favor in games two and three. The end result was another impressive series win.

With series wins over Nebraska, Cal State Fullerton, and now Texas, to their credit, the Cardinal will take nearly two weeks off before facing Pacific for a three-game set.

Though the season is still young, Marquess and the Cardinal like the direction they're headed.

"We're off to a great start. It's hard to win here and we did a great job on Saturday and Sunday," Marquess said. "We're feeling good moving into the break."

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.