“It doesn’t matter what the name is on their shirt — whether it’s Texas or South Carolina or Stony Brook — we approach it the same way.” Paul mainieri, LSU coach
For all the world, the Baton Rouge super regional between LSU and Stony Brook looks like a collision of opposites in reversed roles.
Stony Brook’s Long Island campus lies about 60 miles east of Broadway, but LSU’s Alex Box Stadium IS Broadway in terms of college baseball venues. Fans would consider the visitors from the northeast to be Yankees, but in this matchup it’s the No. 7-seeded Tigers that loom as the New York Yankees.
And, most significantly, it’s as classic a David versus Goliath battle as is to be found among the eight NCAA super regionals.
“I like the Yankees,” LSU shortstop Austin Nola said with a smile. “That’s my team. But I always like pulling for the underdog.”
The Tigers have won more College World Series titles (six) than the Seawolves have NCAA tournament appearances (five). LSU is hosting its sixth super regional – Game 1 is set for 11 a.m. Friday on ESPN2 — while Stony Brook advanced to its first super regional after winning the Coral Gables regional at Miami as a No. 4 seed.
But to LSU’s players and coaches, Stony Brook hardly is a team to be overlooked. The Tigers say they regard the Seawolves — at 50-12 the nation’s only 50-win team – as equals, not underdogs.
“Their dream is our dream, to get to Omaha,” LSU’s Mason Katz said. “It’s a matter of who can play better for two or three games and come out on top and make it to the College World Series.”
Many of the Tigers know from first-hand experience how talented the Seawolves are. They played with and against them last summer in the Cape Cod League, the premier offseason league for college players.
Stony Brook outfielder Travis Jankowski, who leads the Seawolves with a .417 average, was the 2011 Cape Cod MVP playing for the Bourne Braves. Stony Brook catcher Pat Cantwell caught for LSU starter Ryan Eades with Bourne, while LSU catcher Ty Ross and Seawolves’ slugger William Carmona (Stony Brook’s leader with 12 home runs) were teammates at Wareham.
“I’m pretty good friends with them,” Eades said of Janakowski and Cantwell. “It’ll be fun seeing those guys here.
Major league teams certainly think so.
The San Diego Padres drafted Jankowski with the 44th overall pick Monday night in the Compensation Round A round, an extension of the first round. Tuesday, the Texas Rangers drafted Cantwell in the third round, while infielder Maxx Tissenbaum went to San Diego, Carmona went to the Philadelphia Phillies and pitcher James Campbell was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Eades, the likely starter for LSU if the super regional goes to a Game 3 Sunday. “They’ve got hard-working kids with good talent.”
And talent shows no matter how its gift-wrapped, according to LSU coach Paul Mainieri.
“It doesn’t matter what the name is on their shirt — whether it’s Texas or South Carolina or Stony Brook – we approach it the same way,” Mainieri said.
“Anyone who takes Stony Brook lightly doesn’t know anything about college baseball. They’ve got us beat so far as drafted players go. They have an outstanding team. Fortunately for us we have several players who played in the Cape Cod League with some of their players, so they don’t have to listen to me to tell them how good they are. They can just listen to their teammates.
Oddly enough, this isn’t the Seawolves’ first trip to Louisiana this year.
Stony Brook opened its season at Nicholls State in February, playing a pair of games each against the Colonels and Alabama State. The Seawolves won all four, beating Nicholls 8-6 and 4-1 while topping Alabama State 3-2 and 6-0.
Still, the general expectation is that when the Seawolves’ feel the searing midday June heat and are under the heat lamp of pressure brought on by 10,000 LSU fans and national TV cameras they will wilt, just another victim for the Tigers on just another march to Omaha.
That isn’t Katz’s expectation at all.
“They’re not going to be intimidated by the atmosphere or the crowds,” Katz said. “It’s just two games you have to win, and they’re going to come in here and play 100 percent.”
Of course, Katz said, the Seawolves should expect the same from the Tigers, who have won all five of the super regionals they’ve hosted going back to 2000.
“To us, they’re the bad guys,” he said. “They’re coming in here trying to spoil our dreams. Our goal is so close, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing.
“We have to win.”