Families greet Stony Brook baseball team

President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. poses with Wolfie

President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. poses with Wolfie the Stony Brook Seawolves mascot at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook. (June 11, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/Ed Betz)

The Stony Brook University baseball team literally received the red-carpet treatment Monday after returning from its NCAA super regional series in Baton Rouge, La.

The Seawolves' 7-2 win over Louisiana State University on Sunday capped an improbable run to the College World Series.

But few could have been more proud than the more than 20 family members who greeted the team at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma with loud cheers and enthusiasm.

"We are overwhelmed, proud; we believed the entire time the team could do it. There wasn't a doubt in our mind," said Denise Italiano of West Sayville, the mother of catcher Anthony Italiano.

As players exited the plane, they walked across the red carpet, which had been laid near the aircraft. A bagpipe player, dressed in a kilt, played "God Bless America." Players had a chance to see the decorated lobby inside Hawthorne Global Aviation Service, which was festooned with red plastic bats, posters, balloons and flags.

Family members congratulated the Seawolves, encouraging them to win the national title in Omaha, where the College World Series will begin Friday.

Between 60 and 100 relatives are expected to travel to the games, family members said.

"No, I can't afford it," said Lori Vanderka of Levittown, whose son Frankie threw a three-hitter Sunday night in Game 3. "But you know what, you only get this opportunity once in a lifetime and you gotta do what you have to do for your kids."

Stony Brook became only the second team to open the tournament as a No. 4 seed in the regional round and reach the College World Series since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1999. The first was Fresno State during its stunning 2008 run to a national title.

Apparently, some Stony Brook players are preparing for a similar performance: A few players held up signs reading "Shock The World" shortly after the plane landed. And that's exactly what their relatives want.

"They shocked the world, but they didn't shock us parents," Denise Italiano said.

By Monday afternoon, the team bus had arrived on campus with a university police escort to be greeted by media and fans.

"We don't know what's around the corner. That's what makes it exciting," said catcher Pat Cantwell of West Islip. "It was unreal. Just an amazing experience. When the police were escorting the bus, we weren't really sure what was happening."

Coach Matt Senk also spoke to the new, heightened profile of his team. "We've proven that anything's a possibility,'' he said. "To be the lead story on 'SportsCenter,' it just blows you away. It's a pinch-yourself kind of moment."

Stony Brook is the first metropolitan-area team to reach the CWS since St. John's in 1980 and the first team from the Northeast since 1986. The Seawolves, who have won 28 of their last 31 games, will open against UCLA.

With Steven Marcus

At a glance

College World Series

Eight-team, double-elimination tournament that begins Friday in Omaha. Stony Brook's first opponent will be UCLA (47-14).

Cold facts

  • Stony Brook is the first school from the Northeast to play in the CWS in 26 years and the first team from the metropolitan area since St. John's in 1980.

  • Major connections Stony Brook had seven players selected last week in Major League Baseball's first-year player draft. Centerfielder Travis Jankowski was the highest pick -- No. 44 overall by the San Diego Padres.
  • The only player in school history to make it to the major leagues is four-time All Star Joe Nathan, who pitches for the Texas Rangers.
  • Local connection

    Of the team's 28 players, 11 are from Long Island. Three are from New York City and one is from Albany. There are four players each from California and Canada, two each from Connecticut and Pennsylvania, and one from Florida.

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