STONY BROOK, N.Y. — Their motto is “shock the world.” So far, so good for the Stony Brook Seawolves.
Stony Brook University, which began playing a Division I schedule only in 2000, is headed to the College World Series after pulling off a stunning upset of perennial baseball powerhouse LSU before 10,000 Tigers supporters in Baton Rouge, La.
The Seawolves, who won the last two games of a best-of-three series from LSU, including a 7-2 clincher Sunday night, are the first team from New York state to reach the College World Series since 1980 and the first team from the Northeast since Maine in 1986.
But before heading to Omaha, Neb., where they take on UCLA on Friday, the Seawolves received a heroes’ welcome Monday on their campus 60 miles east of New York City. The crowd included mostly university staff and a smattering of students since the university is on a summer vacation.
The brief rally rivaled a miniature version of the atmosphere of a World Series or Super Bowl celebration thrown for New York’s professional teams at City Hall.
“It’s unbelievable,” said first baseman and outfielder Kevin Courtney of Lindenhurst, N.Y. “This is really unexpected. We had friends and family come and support us at the airport, and then we came back here and see all these people. It’s tremendous support. It’s really what keeps us motivated and going.”
Stony Brook coach Matt Senk, who was hired in 1991 to lead the then-Division III team, said the brief respite at home will benefit his players who have been on the road for two weeks, first competing in regional competition in Miami before advancing to Baton Rouge.
“It will be nice to get back here and take it easy for a day and a half and then get back to business,” he said.
The team, which usually plays before only several hundred on its home field on Long Island, was not intimidated by the raucous LSU crowd, he said. “We were called Tiger bait by LSU fans, and in a good way. Their fan base is unbelievable from 6-year-olds to 90-year-olds. A lot of teams they say go in there and are intimidated and we wanted to make sure we enjoyed the experience and fed off of it in a positive way, and that’s exactly what we did.”
Although the team may be little known on the national stage, baseball scouts have taken notice. Senk said he has a quality group of players; seven have been drafted by Major League Baseball teams, including center fielder Travis Jankowski, the Seawolves’ leading hitter at .422 and the 44th overall selection in last week’s amateur draft.
Joe Nathan, a major league veteran who pitches for the Texas Rangers, is a Stony Brook alumnus.
Starting pitcher Frankie Vanderka, who threw a complete-game three-hitter in the series clincher on Sunday night, insisted the team is not satisfied with its accomplishments so far.
“We love the whole Cinderella story, you know,” he said surrounded by news microphones and cameras Monday afternoon. “Everyone underestimating us and then showing what a Northeast team can do? We just played how we played all year. We didn’t change a thing.”
He conceded all the attention will not go unnoticed once the squad arrives in Omaha later this week.
“People are going to know; it’s going to be a great time,” he said.
And how does he size up UCLA, the Seawolves’ first opponent?
“It’s just another game.”