A stunning turn of events for Stony Brook baseball
Until Sunday night, no sentence could realistically contain "Stony Brook baseball'' and "College World Series.'' It is hard to fathom. It requires a bit of an education for the uninitiated, which includes just about everyone.
This just doesn't happen with mid-major teams such as Stony Brook. In the latest national poll, Stony Brook was ranked 18th, which wouldn't be bad except for the fact that only 16 teams remained in the Super Regionals.
Now Stony Brook is one of the final eight. This achievement would be like the Seawolves making the Final Four in men's basketball. That it doesn't occur under the same glare as March Madness makes it no less remarkable.
College baseball has always flown under the radar. The season starts when it is bitter cold in the East; the thought of sitting on aluminum stands to watch the athletes play tends to pass quickly.
The names were not household. Travis Jankowski, Maxx Tissenbaum, Willie Carmona, to name a few. They play on mostly anonymous fields in front of too few to mention. Turns out that was our loss, now that we can't get enough of them.
College baseball does not come alive until most of the students have gone home for the summer or graduated. There is no football-like rally. Selection Monday, this year on Memorial Day, was pizza and soda and water in the Goldstein Center on campus. Not many students beyond those who play baseball could be seen.
But this marvelous adventure was born that day. When the announcement was made that Stony Brook would face Miami in the Coral Gables Regional, there was no demonstrable reaction. No opponent seemed out of reach, even then, for a team that seems very comfortable in its own mid-major skin.
Even before Stony Brook defeated LSU for the second time in three games Sunday night, seven members of the team were chosen in Major League Baseball's first-year draft. That just doesn't happen on the mid- major level, either. But it happened for Stony Brook.
None of the draftees -- Jankowski, Carmona, Tissenbaum, to name a few -- seemed overwhelmed. Coach Matt Senk has taught them not to feel inferior. So the seven draftees and the rest of their teammates took their act to Baton Rouge, where LSU had never lost an NCAA postseason game.
Only three players in the entire country were chosen before LSU righthander Kevin Gausman in the first round, and to beat the Tigers, Stony Brook would have to hit Gausman -- after already having lost a 12-inning heartbreaker in Game 1 of the best-of-three series, a game in which LSU stunned the Seawolves with tying home runs in the ninth, 10th and 11th innings.
A back-to-the-wall game against a pitcher who is expected to be a front-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues someday?
Gausman was the winning pitcher in the extra-inning first game, but he could not intimidate Stony Brook in the second game Saturday. In fact, the Seawolves' Tyler Johnson clearly outpitched him, allowing one run, which was unearned, and three hits in nine innings.
The Seawolves made the clincher look easy in front of a full house at Alex Box Stadium in gator country. By the time they leaped into a pile to celebrate, starting pitchers Brandon McNitt, Johnson and Frankie Vanderka had allowed one earned run and nine hits in 25 innings.
The next impossible task comes in Omaha.
Dare to dream?