Seawolves prove not to be stepping stone for LSU
On the wall of LSU’s squad room in Alex Box Stadium, in huge, gleaming silver letters, is the name of a town that has become synonymous with the Tigers’ baseball program:
The letters sit up high, too high to reach without the aid of a stepladder.
For the LSU Tigers, reaching Omaha, Neb., this season proved to be just out of their reach as well.
The Stony Brook Seawolves turned out not to be the stepping stone to another chapter of College World Series glory that so many expected they would be for LSU in the Baton Rouge Super Regional.
Instead, the Seawolves used superb pitching, relentless hitting and breathtaking defense to wrench the ticket to Omaha out of the Tigers’ hands, culminating with a dominant 7-2 Game 3 victory Sunday night before a record crowd of 10,620 at Alex Box Stadium.
“They came down here and whipped us,” a dejected LSU coach Paul Mainieri said afterward. “They deserved to win. They’ve got an excellent ballclub.”
Actually, Mainieri and his players were calling Stony Brook — a widely overlooked No. 4 seed that bashed its way through the Coral Gables regional averaging 10 runs per game — an excellent team before the super regional.
At the time, it seemed like hyperbole, especially for LSU, which was 5-0 when hosting super regionals since they were added to the NCAA tournament format in 1999.
Now, it’s history. Remarkable history. The Seawolves are just the second No. 4 seed to reach the College World Series, following Fresno State, which won the CWS in 2008, a year before LSU’s most recent Omaha appearance and national championship.
“Our motto is, ‘Shock the world,’” Seawolves center fielder Travis Jankowski said.
Boy, did they ever.
Despite Stony Brook’s tony 52-13 record, the most wins of any team advancing to the College World Series this season, the Seawolves’ super regional series victory over the Tigers will go down as one of the most shocking upsets in NCAA baseball tournament history.
As early as Sunday night, the ripples were being felt throughout cyberspace and beyond, as the story of Stony Brook’s upset made the lead story on “Sports Center.”
“The only thing I know is we’re trending on Twitter right now,” Jankowski said after the game. “And that’s pretty cool.”
Monday, the Stony Brook team flew back to Long Island for a brief stop at home before jetting off to Omaha, where CWS practices begin Thursday. The Seawolves will play No. 2 national seed UCLA (47-14) in the first CWS game at 4 p.m. Friday on ESPN2.
Family members of players said they expect about 60 to 100 relatives to make the trek to Omaha, according to the newspaper Newsday.
“No, I can’t afford it,” Lori Vanderka, mother of Game 3 starting pitcher Frankie Vanderka, told the newspaper. “But you know what, you only get this opportunity once in a lifetime, and you’ve got to do what you have to for your kids.”
It seemed once in a lifetime was the only time LSU managed to have a lead against Stony Brook in the best-of-three series.
LSU fought back from deficit after deficit to tie Friday’s Game 1 with home runs in the ninth, 10th and 11th innings by JaCoby Jones, Tyler Moore and Mason Katz, each time with the Tigers trailing by a run. But rains even more relentless than LSU’s hitters forced a suspension until Saturday morning with the game tied 4-4 in the 12th inning.
Once the contest resumed, it was over in 10 minutes. LSU pitcher Kevin Gausman made quick work of the Seawolves, then Mason Katz drove in Moore from second with an RBI single to left over Vanderka for a 5-4 LSU win.
It turned out to be only lead the Tigers had all weekend.
Still, LSU seemed on its way with Gausman — the fourth overall pick in last week’s Major League draft by the Baltimore Orioles — coming back to start after throwing 12 pitches to end Game 1.
Gausman was good, allowing just three runs over seven innings, but Stony Brook ace Tyler Johnson was better. He spun a complete-game three-hitter as the Seawolves forced a decisive Game 3 with a 3-1 victory.
On Sunday, with a jam-packed crowd at The Box looking on, Stony Brook shook off a 1-1 tie on a home run by Katz in the bottom of the first to chase LSU starter Ryan Eades after just 2.2 innings with three runs in the third.
The Seawolves added two runs in the fourth for a 6-1 lead, plenty of cushion for Vanderka.
Like Johnson the day before, Vanderka shackled the LSU bats with a complete-game three-hitter, backed up by a defense that seemed to be playing with five outfielders, Katz said.
“Jankowski covered both gaps like it was nothing,” Katz said. “He was a great player. That made it tough. Their defense was phenomenal. Their guy was pitching to both corners, and he’s not giving up long balls.”
The Tigers did go 47-18 and won the school’s 15th regular-season Southeastern Conference title, though any season that doesn’t end in shiny Omaha isn’t considered truly great.
At this point, LSU’s best hope is that it lost to the team that will go on to again “shock the world” and win it all.
“I would not be one bit surprised if Stony Brook went on and won the national championship,” Mainieri said.