Baseball: Utes to challenge Stanford’s best

Senior Joe Pond in a 2011 game. Pond will replace injured Brock Duke when the Utes face Stanford tonight in Palo Alto, Calif. Chronicle File Photo / The Daily Utah Chronicle
Senior Joe Pond in a 2011 game. Pond will replace injured Brock Duke when the Utes face Stanford tonight in Palo Alto, Calif.
Chronicle File Photo / The Daily Utah Chronicle

When the Utes face No. 17 Stanford tonight, there will be a big roadblock in the way of their first conference victory. A 6-foot-5 roadblock that hurls 95 mph, to be exact.
Utah’s lineup will be put to the test tonight when it faces the No. 8 pick from the 2012 MLB Draft, Mark Appel, on the mound for the Cardinal.
“We’re looking forward to playing a really good team this weekend,” said Utah head coach Bill Kinneberg. “Facing Mark Appel is going to be a fun challenge for our guys.”
The 6-foot-5 senior, who boasts a 95 mph fastball, turned down a $3.8 million offer to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates in lieu of finishing his collegiate career and his degree at Stanford. Appel is 2-2 on the year in four starts, three of which were complete games. He’s struck out 43 batters without allowing a home run.
In Appel’s last appearance, he fanned a career-high 15 batters versus UNLV before coming out of the game in the seventh. Despite the dominant performance, UNLV claimed a victory that day on their way to sweeping the Cardinal in three games. Prior to that, Stanford was on a nine-game winning streak.
On the other hand, Utah will be without their ace pitcher. Brock Duke will miss his third consecutive start after kicking off the 2013 season with a 2-0 record in four starts. Utah is 4-0 when Duke gets the nod. The Utes will look to get him back in action later in the series as a reliever.
Mitch Watrous will be taking Duke’s place in the rotation tonight. Watrous has a 1-0 record and struck out a Utah record 12 batters two weeks ago at St. Mary’s. Joe Pond will start on the hill Saturday with a 2-2 record and a 5.81 ERA. Freshman Dalton Carroll will start Sunday with a 1-0 record and a 5.40 ERA.
The Utes are coming off a 3-2, 11-inning win over Utah State University on Tuesday. TJ Bennett knocked in the winning run on a single to left that plated Tyler Relf. Utah will be looking to ride that momentum into the weekend versus Stanford.
“Just in general for the team, getting a win at home was big,” Bennett said. “[We’re] getting the fans behind us and just kind of getting some positive mojo.”
Utah’s positive mojo might help carry them through a matchup in which the numbers favor the Cardinal this weekend. Stanford comes in with a .244 team batting average and a 2.08 team ERA. Utah counters with a .236 team batting average and a 3.61 team ERA.
The three-game series begins tonight at 6 p.m. and will continue through the weekend with a 1 p.m. start on Saturday and noon on Sunday. Stanford will have live video for each game available online.