Complete game from Vanderka stymies LSU
Stony Brook arrived in town this week known for an offense that put up 50 runs on 49 hits in regional action.
An offense that featured eight everyday players batting .308 or better. An offense led by four players who were taken in the first 11 rounds of the MLB draft.
In winning the Baton Rouge super regional in three games, the underdog Seawolves turned the tables on an LSU team carried all season by a deep, balanced pitching staff and beat the Tigers with their arms.
The most unlikely of the Stony Brook pitching stars finished the series as sophomore Frankie Vanderka, who spent much of the season as the team’s closer, went the distance in a 7-2 win Sunday night.
As he tossed his glove in the air after striking out Alex Edward for the game’s final out, Vanderka completed a virtuoso performance that came before the largest crowd in the history of LSU baseball and in the biggest game in the young history of the new Alex Box Stadium.
“It seems like a million years ago, but Frankie was the guy pitching when they scored the final run in the first game,” Stony Brook coach Matt Senk said.
“Now here he is, pitching a complete game.”
Senk used Vanderka for the 12th inning in the series opener, a game that began Friday and ended Saturday morning. Mason Katz got LSU one win from a College World Series berth with his RBI single for a 5-4, 12-inning victory.
Hours later, Stony Brook ace Tyler Johnson threw a complete-game three-hitter to even the series.
Where would Senk turn in Game 3 with his top two pitchers having already thrown?
He said he considered 12th-round draft pick James Campbell and 26th-round pick Jasvir Rakkar, but both of those pitchers rely heavily on fastballs. Senk said the pitchers who had the most success against LSU in the first two games were the ones who could mix pitches and keep the Tigers off-balance.
So he went with the pitcher who suffered Stony Brook’s only loss of the super regional.
He went with the pitcher who threw the first no-hitter in school history as a freshman last year, but who’d spent much of the season this year finishing games rather than starting them.
“Their kid yesterday was the same kind of pitcher,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “The guy we faced in Game 1 (Brandon McNitt) was just as tough.”
A week after watching Stony Brook mash its way to victories in mostly high-scoring regional affairs, Senk called the performance of the six pitchers he used in the super regional a welcomed reversal.
The team’s big offensive stars still shined.
Center fielder Travis Jankowski, the 44th pick in the MLB draft, went 4-for-6 in Sunday’s win with two runs scored. Hulking third baseman William Carmona went 3-for-5 with an RBI. Maxx Tissenbaum, who entered the weekend with only six strikeouts, was 3-for-5 with three RBIs.
Stony Brook pounded out 15 hits Sunday to finish with 35 for the three games.
But when his turn to talk came after the CWS-clinching win, Jankowski patted the back of the pitcher seated next to him.
“Tonight’s all about this big guy right here,” Jankowski said. “This night’s about him.”
Vanderka had little trouble putting behind the Game 1 loss and putting his team’s hopes on his shoulders.
He gave up only one hit — a Katz homer — through the first six innings. After giving up a double and a single in the seventh, he retired the final eight batters in order.
It was easily the longest appearance of the season for Vanderka, who pitched 6.1 innings out of the bullpen in a regional victory over Missouri State.
“Coach came up to me in the fourth inning. He told me, ‘If you walk one more guy, I’m gonna have to take you out of there.,’” Vanderka said. “I couldn’t let that happen, so I went out there and started throwing strikes with the fastball. It worked out as planned.”
The Seawolves continue their fairy-tale journey later this week when they arrive at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., for their first College World Series appearance. They will be the first America East member to make the CWS and only the second No. 4 seed to advance that far.
If they get the kind of pitching they did in the school’s first super regional, they have to believe they will make for more than just a good story.