Stony Brook: The North will rise again

Stony Brook made it to the College World Series yesterday, defeating perennial power LSU, on LSU’s home turf, and in near-dominating fashion too. The super-regional series went to the full three games, but Stony Brook easily could have swept, having blown leads several times in game 1 before LSU won it.

This is, even in the relatively-niche college sport of baseball, a big deal. The Seawolves (previously best known for having been the college team of Joe Nathan) were a number 4 seed in regionals, and, as ESPN constantly pointed out, that makes them the equivalent of a number 13 or lower/higher (it’s hard to keep your directions straight with seeds sometimes) making it to the Elite Eight during March Madness. In 2008, Fresno State became the first and only regional 4-seed to win the entire tournament, but Fresno, unlike Stony Brook, had been to the CWS before, and had in fact ended up coming in second on three previous occasions. Stony Brook… hasn’t. In fact, they hadn’t even made it to the Super Regionals before this year.

(more after jump)

As I mentioned previously, the collegiate game is ruled by teams from the South and West, filled with players who have had the advantage of spending their entire lives practicing all year round. That isn’t true for most of Stony Brook’s team. They are made up mainly of New Yorkers and Canadians, who likely were ignored by recruiters from more established schools.

In Moneyball, it is said that in the early 2000s Billy Beane found market inefficiencies to fill the holes in the A’s lineup: guys who didn’t hit all that well or run that fast, but who could get on base. Stony Brook coach Matt Senk, it could be said, has found the college version of that: players who haven’t faced the best competition in High School and who haven’t had the ability to play outside 12 months a year, but who are still too talented to ignore.

It will be interesting, especially if Stony Brook continues to shock the world, to see if this leads to a renaissance in Northern college baseball. In fact, perhaps it is already starting: Kent State (located in Ohio) faces Oregon tonight in a decisive third game to decide who heads to Omaha. Could two cold-weather teams go to the CWS? It hasn’t happened since Indiana State and Maine made it in 1986, but Stony Brook has already pushed us halfway there, so history could be in the making.

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