Who is Stony Brook and how did the Seawolves make it to the College World Series for a first-game matchup against UCLA?
The college baseball world is buzzing over the success of a team with 52 victories representing a public university located on the north shore of Long Island, N.Y.
“I’m a little overwhelmed … because I think I do know the magnitude of this,” said Stony Brook Coach Matt Senk, who took over the program in 1991 when it was competing in Division III.
Stony Brook is the equivalent of a No. 16-seeded team making it to the NCAA basketball Final Four. The Seawolves are just the second fourth-seeded team from a regional to reach the eight-team College World Series since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1999. The other was Fresno State, which won the national title in 2008.
Stony Brook and UCLA will play in the opening game of the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha on Friday at 2 p.m. PDT.
On Monday, the team returned to campus, where it was welcomed by screaming fans and speeches by the school president and a local congressman.
Stony Brook eliminated six-time national champion Louisiana State, 7-2, in a super regional on Sunday before 10,620 in Baton Rouge. LSU hadn’t lost a playoff game in its home stadium since it opened in 2009.
Stony Brook outhit the Tigers, 35-15, en route to winning the final two games of a best-of-three series.
“They’ve proven they belong. There’s no question about that,” UCLA Coach John Savage said.
Added UCLA outfielder Jeff Gelalich: “Everybody has heard about them and the run they’ve made. It speaks volumes. I think everybody is rooting for them.”
ESPN is certainly not going to complain about a Stony Brook-UCLA matchup because it brings together the nation’s two largest television markets.
Stony Brook has talent. Seven of its players were chosen last week in Major League Baseball’s annual amateur draft. The Seawolves’ most recognizable player is outfielder Travis Jankowski, who the San Diego Padres took as the 44th overall choice in the draft. He was the player of the year in the America East Conference and is batting .422 with 46 runs batted in.
Two of the team’s three starting pitchers are Southern California natives. Tyler Johnson, a senior from Encino Crespi High, is 12-1 with a 1.94 earned-run average. Brandon McKnitt, a sophomore from La Puente Bishop Amat High, is 8-3 with a 2.50 ERA.
Stony Brook’s most successful major leaguer is Minnesota Twins closer Joe Nathan, a three-time All-Star.
Stony Brook switched to Division I in 2000 and is making its first appearance in Omaha.
“It’s just parity,” Savage said. “There are so many good players out there. They have a lot of talent on that team. These guys are on a serious run.”