This is a great story, unless, of course, you are an LSU fan.
Stony Brook is in the College World Series.
Do you know where Stony Brook is? Have you heard of Long Island? That is a long way from Baton Rouge, a long way from Omaha.
Stony Brook reaching the College World Series illustrates how much shorter the distance is for non-power schools from non-power conferences to reach Omaha now.
With under 12 scholarships per program, with BBCOR bats providing a more level playing field, with more players signing out of high school, there is finally hope for other baseball programs in America outside of the SEC, Pac 12 and ACC.
For as long as the sport has existed, college baseball has been all about teams from the south and west. Schools from California, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana and Florida have long dominated the sport. This is unquestionably a warm weather sport.
That is why Paul Mainieri left Notre Dame, where he built a College World Series team, for LSU. The climate (and facilities) give you a greater chance to win at LSU, rather than at Notre Dame.
By reaching the CWS, Stony Brook is the first team from the Northeast to get to Omaha in 26 years when John Winkin's Maine Black Bears made it to the final eight. The Seawolves are just the second fourth seed to reach the College World Series ever.
With regard to non-power conferences, there is real hope now.
Fresno State of the Western Athletic Conference broke through in 2008. Stony Brook is there now and Kent State has a shot, pending their Monday game with Oregon.
Stony Brook resides in the obscure America East Conference. Kent State is a member of the obscure Mid-American Conference.
The Seawolves have now won 28-of-30 games. The huge question about them was the level of competition they had played. The America East Conference, consisting of six teams, had no other team with a winning record on the season. The schedule was light, very light. When the Seawolves played an NCAA tournament team, they were swept in a three-game series at East Carolina, scoring just four runs in three games. That is why Stony Brook was a fourth-seed in the Coral Gables regional.
Given the opportunity to play the big boys, Stony Brook proved to be up to the challenge. They were just the third fourth-seed to reach a super regional. They entered the 2012 NCAA tournament with just one NCAA tournament victory. They are the first America East team to ever get to a super regional. They are the first America East team to ever reach the College World Series.
On Sunday night, Frankie Vanderka pitched a complete game three-hitter. He obtained 17 harmless fly ball outs. When LSU hit a threatening fly ball, Travis Jankowski and company tracked every one of them.
The best team won. There was no doubt. Stony Brook, which drew 5,800 fans combined for all its home games this season, came to Baton Rouge and played before nearly 30,000 fans over three days. They played in the rain, in the heat and humidity that was supposed to affect them. Think again.
As we look ahead to the future of LSU baseball, here are some thoughts.
**This was a good season for LSU, a definite improvement, but given the opportunity to host, it is a disappointment to see the Tigers at home. LSU had won 16 out of the last 17 regionals and super regionals played in Baton Rouge, including all five supers. Overall, LSU had won 17 of 20 NCAA regionals or super regionals in Baton Rouge. Make that 17-of-21.
**LSU needs to significantly upgrade its hitting. It was quite an accomplishment for a team with so many offensive deficiencies to win the powerful SEC. That is a testament to Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn, the jobs they did, the excellent pitching and good defense they played. Dunn was a huge upgrade.
**LSU needs a different approach at the plate. Their aggressive nature, swinging at first pitches and swinging at 2-0 pitches and 3-1 pitches when trailing in games needs to change. That is fine with very good hitters, not with this bunch. The difference in approaches between Stony Brook hitters and LSU hitters was huge. LSU needs better speed as well. They were unable to press the issue on the bases all season long, having to rely on bunting runners up with regularity.
**While Stony Brook is an elite offensive team, they have good pitchers but average arms. LSU made their pitching look like major league pitching. LSU hitting was woefully deficient in the series.
**Looking ahead to 2013, Ryan Eades must find himself and Kurt McCune must rebound. Aaron Nola has the makeup and stuff to be a Friday night starter. LSU needs the Eades of earlier in the season and the McCune of 2011 to contend for another SEC title. Jacoby Jones must rebound from a sophomore slump and play to his vast potential.
**LSU's outfield defense was poor in the regional and super regional. Mason Katz was playing out of position in center field--not his fault. I don't blame Mainieri for playing him there in the quest for more offense. Alex Edward dropped a fly ball in right field against Stony Brook. Arby Fields played a single into a two-base error against Oregon State. They will miss Austin Nola's brilliant defense at shortstop next year.
**Talent wins. When LSU won the national championship in 2009, they had future major leaguers in D.J. LeMahieu and Louis Coleman and future pros in Jared Mitchell, Anthony Ranaudo, Mikie Mahtook, Austin Ross, Matty Ott, Micah Gibbs, Blake Dean, Ryan Schimpf, Sean Ochinko, Leon Landry and Austin Nola. At least two of those, if not three more, will likely make it to the majors from that group (Mitchell, Ranaudo and Mahtook are the most likely).
**While they were drafted in the first round and subsequently signed to play professional baseball, LSU lost top Louisiana players Gavin Cecchini of Barbe and Stryker Trahan of Acadiana to Ole Miss in recruiting. Jacob Waguespack, a very impressive pitcher from Dutchtown (in LSU's backyard), also signed with the Rebels. With their facilities, tradition and resources, LSU should be able to keep players within an hour or two of campus in Louisiana at home.
**Where were the left-handed hitters? LSU got caught with a tremendous imbalance at the plate, fielding an all right-handed hitting lineup frequently. With all due respect, when your top left-handed hitting options are Grant Dozar, Tyler Moore and Chris Sciambra, you simply do not have the talent needed to compete for a national championship. Hopefully, Sciambra recovers from a serious injury and Moore continues to show promise. This was a far cry from Blake Dean, Matt Clark, Todd Walker, Warren Morris, Eddy Furniss, Brad Hawpe, Mike Fontenot, etc.
**For that matter, LSU could really use a left-handed starting pitcher.
LSU had a very good season. The Tigers won the SEC, a great accomplishment. They won 47 games. They won a regional.
While this was progress from the disappointment of 2011, this is a real disappointment. LSU has perhaps the best facilities in the country. LSU has by far the best fan support in the country. LSU has the richest tradition of winning in the sport over the last two decades. LSU has huge expectations. While no one expects the incredible dynasty built by Skip Bertman, it is realistic to expect winning at home in the postseason.
It did not happen. The best team won--by far. The only time LSU led in the 30 innings played this past weekend was when Mason Katz singled home the game-winning run in the 12th inning in the continuation of game one Saturday morning.
Truth be told, Stony Brook should have won game one. They had 14 hits to nine for LSU. They made three errors and gave LSU a gift run in the seventh inning.
Right fielder Sal Intagliata narrowly missed catching a fly ball near the side wall on a ball hit by Jones in the bottom of the ninth inning in game one. Given a reprieve, Jones then hit a game-tying home run. In the bottom of the tenth, left fielder Steven Goldstein narrowly missed catching a fly ball in the LSU bullpen area. Only the bullpen mound prevented Goldstein from making the catch and ending the game. Given a reprieve, Moore belted a game-tying home run.
Overall, Stony Brook outscored LSU 14-8, had 35 hits to just 15 for the Tigers and the Seawolves left 31 men on base to 21 for LSU. The only area where LSU was better was defensively. The Tigers made three errors to six for Stony Brook.
In the final two games, LSU managed just six hits total (three in each game) to go with three runs total.
Key players who were essential to winning simply did not perform at the plate for LSU against Stony Brook.
Senior Austin Nola was 0-for-10 with an RBI. Senior Tyler Hanover was 1-for-9. Clean-up hitter Raph Rhymes, who led the nation in hitting, was 1-for-13 with an RBI. Ty Ross, batting in the five-hole, was 0-for-10.
LSU hit .153 (15-for-98) while Stony Brook hit .307 (35-for-114). The lack of offense was too much to overcome.
Aaron Nola and Kevin Gausman pitched very well. They had to against a potent lineup which took pitches, worked counts and fouled off many two strike pitches to extend at-bats and shorten the outings for LSU starters. The move by Mainieri to go with Gausman in the continuation game Saturday morning was daring and brilliant. It nearly paid off.
Their mission was to "shock the world." Mission accomplished. It will be easy to pull for Stony Brook in Omaha. How will they handle it? They can hit with anyone. They run well. They do not have power arms and it will be interesting to see if better hitting teams can solve their control pitchers, something LSU did not come close to doing.
Cinderella lives but this was no fluke. The team with better players won. The guys from Long Island overcame long odds, cutting LSU's season of promise short of its desired destination. The restaurant and night spot owners in Omaha are most certainly depressed though not nearly as depressed as the many expectant fans who had already made reservations.
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