Sunday, June 10, 2012
Stony Brook making history
By David Helman GeauxTigerNation
BATON ROUGE, La. -- The storyline is already begging to be written for the Stony Brook Seawolves.
Stony Brook advanced to the College World Series after shocking LSU.
Out of the lowly America East Conference, this New York school with a quizzical name will arrive at the College World Series as a surprising No. 4 seed and a darling Cinderella story.
Rather than hosting a mighty LSU program, with 15 College World Series appearances and six national championships, the city of Omaha, Neb., will instead familiarize itself with a Stony Brook squad that has made a truly unexpected journey.
"We were underdogs coming in here -- we had nothing to lose," said Stony Brook center fielder Travis Jankowski. "We came out and our motto is, 'Shock the world.' "
Consider the world shocked. But maybe it shouldn't be.
Sure, Stony Brook is only the second No. 4 seed to reach Omaha in the modern postseason format. And the Seawolves have never been to the pinnacle of college baseball.
But after a weekend of knocking LSU pitchers senseless to the tune of 50 combined hits, while limiting the Tigers to just 15 hits of their own -- a weekend that saw the Seawolves in the lead every single time they took an at-bat -- it's hard to classify Stony Brook as an underdog.
"I don't think that LSU took us lightly, and they were as prepared as we were," said Stony Brook coach Matt Senk. "I very seriously doubt we're sneaking up on anybody."
By the time they were dog piling on top of winning pitcher Frankie Vanderka on Sunday night, the Seawolves were winners of six of their last eight in this NCAA postseason.
"The pressure wasn't on us coming in here," said second baseman Maxx Tissenbaum. "We weren't putting it on ourselves. When you're playing loose, it's a whole lot easier to hit, to pitch, to play defense."
The Seawolves did all three exceptionally. On Friday and Saturday, the bottom of the Seawolves' lineup carried the offense in two squeaky efforts.
Despite hitting eighth and ninth in the order, Kevin Courtney and Sal Intagliata combined for four of Stony Brook's seven RBI in the first two games.
"Kevin Courtney had a hell of a series. I don't know any other way to put it," Vanderka said.
On Sunday, the more traditional weapons showcased themselves when third baseman William Carmona and Tissenbaum, the Seawolves' three and four-hole hitters, combined for five hits and four RBI against an overmatched LSU pitching staff.
"It is hard for me to find weaknesses in their team," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "Offensively, one through nine, that was the toughest lineup that we have faced all year. I will put them in the category with Florida, maybe even better."
It wasn't just the hitters doing the damage, either. Mainieri watched in frustration all weekend as his Tigers were held to just six combined hits in two separate complete game performances from Vanderka and Saturday starter Tyler Johnson.
It's easy to make the argument that the Seawolves should have swept LSU right out of its own stadium. After clinging to a 2-0 lead for most of Friday's opener, Stony Brook fell victim to some home field magic so surreal it might never be replicated.
Down to their last inning, the Tigers homered to tie the game in three separate frames -- the ninth, 10th and 11th -- and foil the visitors' hopes of a win in game one.
When torrential rainfall postponed the 12th inning of the game until Saturday morning, it seemed like an omen for the eventual LSU victory to come. And when LSU center fielder Mason Katz smacked a game-winning, RBI base hit -- off Vanderka, of all people -- it seemed like the knockout blow to Stony Brook's run.
Except it wasn't.
Over the next two games, it was Stony Brook that made the plays LSU could not. It was Johnson out-dueling LSU ace Kevin Gausman -- the No. 4 pick in the MLB draft -- to even the series.
It was Jankowski shagging down three hard-hit fly balls on Sunday night.
And it was Carmona and Tissenbaum fueling a three-hit rally with two outs to take the eventual game-winning lead against LSU's Sunday starter, Ryan Eades.
"They just are playing at a very high level. Their baseball IQ is off the charts right now," Senk said. "It is all cliche, but they are doing all the things winning baseball teams do.
By the time it was over, it hardly seemed like an upset story. The Seawolves only outscored LSU, 14-8, during the weekend. But as Stony Brook received a standing ovation from LSU's own crowd, it was hard to tell just who the underdog had been.
"All I know is we're trending on Twitter," Jankowski said.
The national perception will likely feed on that. The Seawolves' small stature in the college baseball world and their inexperience in Omaha will cast them as the underdog once again -- a role they are more than happy to play.
"I think everybody that's playing has been there except for Kent State," Senk said. "So I guess we can continue to find a reason here or there to do that underdog thing -- it's not a bad thing to be."
But while underdog might be their role in the narrative, don't expect the Seawolves to play like it.
"I would not be one bit surprised if Stony Brook goes on to win the national championship," Mainieri said. "I cannot imagine anyone in the country being better than that team."