Eric Brown has coached baseball at Suffolk Community College for 27 years, has won 609 games and has led his team to six NJCAA Division III World Series.
After all that success, the way his team began the 2014 season stuck out.
"We started out 0-6,'' Brown said, "and it was probably one of the worst starts we've had since I've been here."
But at this point, that must feel even further away than the distance between the Selden campus and Tyler, Texas. That's where the Sharks (22-10) find themselves after winning 22 of their last 26 games, capturing the Region 15 championship and earning an automatic berth in this year's World Series, which begins Saturday.
"All the credit goes to the kids because in the first games we were competitive," Brown said, lamenting three tough losses to Herkimer County Community College, which also earned a World Series berth. "The kids believed in themselves and kept competing and did a really nice job."
Brown credited pitching and small ball as the main reasons for the Sharks' resurgence. It also helps explain how Suffolk CC went 11-0 in away games.
"We just got used to playing on the road and our sophomores who had been through it the year before helped keep the freshmen in line," Brown said. "We were just competitive and were able to pull together quality wins."
The starting pitching trio of Dan D'Onofrio, Richie Motta and Frankie Valentino each won a game in the Region 15 Tournament, combining to allow one run in 22 innings.
D'Onofrio, who is headed to Adelphi, is 6-1 with a 1.95 ERA. "Day in and day out, he got on the mound and competed," Brown said. "He's very intelligent."
Motta, a freshman lefty, is 4-1 with a 1.39 ERA. Valentino is 5-2 with a 2.58 ERA.
Everything came to fruition for Suffolk in the final game of the Region 15 Tournament. One day after D'Onofrio shut out Kingsborough, 1-0, the Sharks beat rival Nassau, 17-1, to capture the title.
Suffolk faces host Tyler Saturday and can position itself for a potential rematch against Herkimer with a win.
Being 1,560 miles from home and on the big stage is not something that will distract a veteran and tested team.
"We try to ignore distractions,'' Brown said. "We know we're playing on the road and we just want to avoid the noise and the fans and play our game."
Stony Brook in final. The Stony Brook baseball team reached the America East Championship final by defeating Hartford, 10-6, Friday night at LeLacheur Park in Lowell, Massachusetts. Kevin Courtney went 3-for-5 with three RBIs, Casey Baker was 2-for-4 with three RBIs and Brandon McNitt struck out 10 in 62/3 innings for the Seawolves (35-16), who have won 25 of their last 31. At 6 p.m. Saturday, Stony Brook will face the winner of Saturday's 2 p.m. game between Binghamton and Hartford.