BATON ROUGE, La. — Coach Matt Senk and his unflappable band of ballplayers from upstart Stony Brook invaded the most hostile territory in college baseball and vanquished another national power.
Six-time national champion LSU is done, and after 22 seasons with a Stony Brook program that played in Division III when he arrived in 1991, Senk is taking his team to the sport’s promised land: the College World Series in Omaha.
Frankie Vanderka threw a three-hitter, Travis Jankowski had four hits and America East champion Stony Brook continued its stunning run with a 7-2 victory over LSU on Sunday night in the deciding game of the Baton Rouge super regional.
Stony Brook, which has won 28 of 30, became only the second team to open the tournament as a No. 4 seed in the regional round and reach Omaha. The first was Fresno State in 2008 which went on to win the national title.
This Stony Brook squad, which beat host Miami in winning the Coral Gables Regional, just might be good enough to repeat that feat. Playing before crowds of 10,000-plus draped in LSU purple-and-gold, the Seawolves didn’t merely survive so much as thrive, outhitting LSU 35-15 in the series.
The only time the Seawolves (52-13) trailed in the three games was when Mason Katz hit a walk-off single to end a thrilling Game 1 in the bottom of the 12th.
And while Stony Brook may have been a relative unknown before this riveting postseason run, pro baseball scouts were quite familiar with them. Seven Seawolves were selected in last week’s Major League Baseball draft (compared to five from LSU). They have eight players with 168 or more at-bats hitting .300 or better.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri and his players told anyone who would listen that Stony Brook was “legit,” as good as anyone they play in the Southeastern Conference. Still, the Tigers hoped that playing in Alex Box Stadium, where one overflow crowd about matched Stony Brook’s home attendance for the entire season, would be a distinct advantage. After all, LSU (47-18) came into the series 8-0 in NCAA tournament games at the current Alex Box since it opened in 2009.
Stony Brook’s 3-1 Game 2 win behind ace Tyler Johnson’s three-hitter ended that streak, but LSU was still confident they would fare better as Stony Brook went deeper into its rotation.
Indeed, the Tigers hit Verduka when he was called upon for the 12th inning of Game 1, and Katz pounded a solo home run off Verduka in the bottom of the first inning Sunday to tie it 1-1.
Verduka (3-3) then went 5 2/3 innings without allowing another hit as the Seawolves pulled away for good.
Stony Brook struck for three runs on three straight two-out hits in the third. Jankowski, who had singled and scored in the first, started the rally with a double and scored on Maxx Tissenbaum’s double. Kevin Krause and Cole Peragine followed with RBI singles that knocked out starter Ryan Eades (5-3). Joe Broussard, LSU’s third pitcher of the inning, struck out Sal Intagliata to leave the bases loaded.
Tissenbaum’s second double of the game, which was misplayed by Katz in center, drove in two to make it 6-1 in the fourth. The Tigers never got closer than 6-2 after that, and at one point, about two dozen fans wearingStony Brook red — surrounded by more than 10,000 LSU fans, could be heard chanting “S-B-U!”
Tigers fans started filing out in the eighth inning. Those who stuck around saw a rare sight: A team wearing colors other than purple and gold in a dog-pile near the pitcher’s mound, then celebrating with fans who rushed to the front row, and then posing for photos behind the mound — with the video board behind the left field wall showing the Stony Brook logo in the background.
Senk arrived at Stony Brook in 1991. He has overseen their transition from Division III to Division II in 1995 (when they changed names from the Patriots to Seawolves) and to Division I in 2000.
Now the Seawolves, the first team to reach 50 wins this season, are the class of the America East Conference, poised to become a regular in the NCAA tournament, and maybe even win a national title. In any event, get used to hearing “Stony Brook” and “Omaha” in the same sentence.