Stony Brook's baseball regional tough but well-balanced

Stony Brook starting pitcher Tyler Johnson #44 delivers

Stony Brook starting pitcher Tyler Johnson #44 delivers against Maine in the America East tournament. (May 23, 2012) Photo Credit: George A. Faella

advertisement | advertise on newsday

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- When it was announced that Central Florida would be the No. 2 seed in the regional hosted by the University of Miami, Hurricanes players celebrated. Miami split two games this season with rival Central Florida.

But considering that ESPN's Kyle Peterson called this the toughest regional in the nation, perhaps they shouldn't have reacted so joyously.

Stony Brook's name, on the other hand, drew little reaction. But perhaps the top-seeded Hurricanes (36-21) should've been more concerned with the fourth-seeded Seawolves (46-11), their opponent Friday night at 7. Third-seeded Missouri State (39-20) will play Central Florida (43-15) at 2 p.m. in the regional opener.

"We just want to come and prove that we deserve to be here with all the wins we've had this year," said Stony Brook senior righthander Tyler Johnson, who will start against Miami. Johnson (9-1, 1.78 ERA) will face senior lefthander Eric Erickson (8-5, 2.84).

Other than the pitching matchups, the biggest news to emerge from Thursday's news conferences came from Miami coach Jim Morris, who revealed that his top hitter, Peter O'Brien, missed practice Wednesday because of a sore wrist.

"He's having trouble rotating his wrist when he follows through," Morris said of O'Brien, who returned last week after missing 18 games because of the injury and is hitting .348 with 10 homers and 39 RBIs. "It's just a question of how much pain he can tolerate."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

If O'Brien is ineffective, it could further balance the scales in a regional that includes three of the four teams ranked among Baseball America's Top 25: Central Florida (20), Miami (23) and Stony Brook (25).

Missouri State is Peterson's pick as the top "sleeper" in the country, a team he called "incredibly dangerous" because of a deep pitching staff.

The regional appears so evenly matched that a case could be made for any of the four teams emerging as the winner.

Miami, for example, went 4-0 against No. 6 North Carolina and got to the ACC Tournament final. But the Hurricanes also lost at home to Florida Gulf Coast, finished 11th in the ACC in runs scored, were last in fielding percentage and changed closers during the season.

Meanwhile, eight Stony Brook starters are hitting over .300, led by Travis Jankowski at .411 and Maxx Tissenbaum at .400, and the team batting average is .337, which helps explain why the Seawolves have the nation's best winning percentage.

Here is something else to consider while contemplating a potential upset Friday night. Stony Brook is 1-6 in NCAA regional play, but its lone victory came against North Carolina State, 6-2, in 2010. N.C. State, like Miami, is an ACC school.

"This is our fourth regional, two in the past three years," Stony Brook coach Matt Senk said. "We believe that if we play our very best, winning a regional is doable."

Subscribe to Newsday’s sports newsletter for stories, photos and videos about your favorite New York teams plus national sports news and events.

Comments now uses Facebook for our comment boards. Please read our guidelines and connect your Facebook account to comment.

You also may be interested in: