BATON ROUGE, La. (CBSNewYork/AP) — For a little while, at least, upstart Stony Brook is grabbing the kind of attention usually reserved for Derek Jeter, David Wright and the big league stars in New York.
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“Our motto is: ‘Shock the world and win the last game of the season,'” said center fielder Travis Jankowski, the Seawolves’ leading hitter at .422 and the 44th overall selection in last week’s Major League Baseball amateur draft. “So as long as we do that, we should be all right from here on out.”
That may seem like a tall order as previously unheralded Stony Brook heads to its first College World Series in Omaha, a trip the Seawolves clinched with a 7-2 victory over six-time national champion LSU on Sunday night. Then again, to hear the Tigers talk, the Seawolves are for real — a bona fide threat to go all the way, little more than a decade after joining the ranks of Division I baseball in 2000.
“They outplayed us really in every phase of the game,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “The people in the South haven’t heard much about Stony Brook, but they know who they are now.
“They gained an awful lot of respect not only down here but nationwide,” Mainieri continued. “That team can play with anybody.”
The Seawolves are the first team from New York State to reach the College World Series since 1980 and the first team from the Northeast since Maine in 1986.
Stony Brook demonstrated that with relentless hitting and stifling pitching against LSU. Starter Frankie Vanderka bounced back from a Game 1 loss in a relief role and threw a complete-game three-hitter in the series clincher. Travis Jankowski had four hits and scored two runs, while Maxx Tissenbaum drove in three runs with a pair of doubles.
“We were underdogs coming in here. We had nothing to lose,” said Jankowski.
When Vanderka’s fifth strikeout ended the game, and he was buried under a celebratory dog pile moments afterward, it was a surreal sight for Stony Brook coach Matt Senk, who recalled “doing backflips” when he was first hired at then-Division III Stony Brook in 1991. Some 22 seasons later, he’s headed for college baseball’s promised land on the heels of stopping the mighty Tigers from booking their 16th appearance in Omaha.
“I’m a little overwhelmed, quite frankly, because I think I do know the magnitude of this,” Senk said, describing how former LSU coach Skip Bertman, winner of five national titles, congratulated him after the game. “To make it to Omaha (is) every college baseball team’s dream, every college baseball coach’s dream and it’s come to fruition. And to do it against LSU, Alex Box Stadium … to shake coach Bertman’s hand on the way in. Oh my God. Having that man congratulate me for going to the College World Series, it’s just unbelievable.”
Stony Brook, which has won 28 of 30 and will face UCLA in the opening game in Omaha, became only the second team to open the tournament as a No. 4 seed in the regional round and reach the College World Series. The first was Fresno State in 2008 which went on to win the national title.
This Stony Brook squad, which beat host Miami in winning the Coral Gables Regional, just might be good enough to repeat that feat. Playing before crowds of 10,000-plus wearing LSU purple-and-gold, the Seawolves didn’t merely survive so much as thrive, outhitting LSU 35-15 in the series.
The only time the Seawolves (52-13) trailed in the three games was when Mason Katz hit a walk-off single to end a thrilling Game 1 in the bottom of the 12th, and outhit LSU 15-3 in the series finale.
“They played phenomenal defense,” said LSU’s Raph Rhymes, who went 1-for-13 in the series after coming in hitting .452. “We hit balls hard, but they just found gloves tonight. You have to give credit to Stony Brook, to their pitching and to their defense.”READ MORE: Luna Found Safe After Carjacking In Brooklyn, Family Says
While Stony Brook may have been a relative unknown before this riveting postseason run, pro baseball scouts were quite familiar with them. Seven Seawolves were selected in last week’s Major League Baseball draft (compared to five from LSU). They have eight players with 168 or more at-bats hitting .300 or better.
Asked if he realized what a sensation the Seawolves had become, Jankowski said, “The only thing I know is we’re trending on Twitter now.”
Then the self-effacing Senk interjected, “I don’t know what that means,” drawing laughs from his players.
Mainieri and the Tigers insisted Stony Brook was “legit,” as good as anyone they play in the Southeastern Conference. Still, the Tigers hoped that playing at home, where one overflow crowd about matched Stony Brook’s home attendance for the entire season, would be a distinct advantage. After all, LSU (47-18) came into the series 8-0 in NCAA tournament games at the current Alex Box since it opened in 2009.
Stony Brook’s 3-1 Game 2 win behind ace Tyler Johnson’s three-hitter ended that streak, but LSU was still confident it would fare better as Stony Brook went deeper into its rotation.
The Tigers had hit Vanderka when he was called upon for the 12th inning of Game 1, and Katz pounded a solo home run off Vanderka in the bottom of the first inning Sunday to tie it 1-1.
However, Vanderka (3-3) then went 5 2-3 innings before allowing another hit as the Seawolves pulled away for good.
“I just went out there and threw strikes and that was really all I was trying to do,” Vanderka said. “The defense played awesome behind me.”
Stony Brook struck for three runs on three straight two-out hits in the third. Jankowski, who had singled and scored in the first, started the rally with a double and scored on Tissenbaum’s double. Kevin Krause and Cole Peragine followed with RBI singles that knocked out starter Ryan Eades (5-3).
Tissenbaum’s second double of the game, which was misplayed by Katz in center, drove in two to make it 6-1 in the fourth. The Tigers never got closer than 6-2 after that, and at one point, about two dozen fans wearing Stony Brook red — surrounded by more than 10,000 LSU fans — could be heard chanting “S-B-U!”
Senk has overseen Stony Brook’s transition from Division III to Division II in 1995 and then to Division I. His two-plus-decade commitment to the program, starting back when playing for Stony Brook was the definition of obscurity, has become a major source of motivation for his players. To them, Senk deserved to know what it’s like to take his team to Omaha — and now he will.
“Any great team, there has to be a great coach and that’s where it always starts,” Tissenbaum said. “To be able to put this all together and crown it for coach and the entire staff, it’s phenomenal.”
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