Stony Brook takes over Omaha

OMAHA, Neb. — The Stony Brook Seawolves may be the first team from New York to make the College World Series since 1980 but they feel right at home in Omaha, Neb.

The Long Island university shares its name with a small neighborhood near 144th street in Omaha. Naturally, Stony Brook’s residents threw their support behind the Seawolves and the rest of Omaha followed. The Seawolves have garnered near celebrity status with the Nebraska locals because of their improbable postseason run.

At Friday’s opening game between UCLA and Stony Brook at TD Ameritrade Park – a 9-1 win for the Bruins – red shirts outnumbered blue shirts and Stony Brook’s adopted team motto “shock the world” could be seen on makeshift banners and t-shirts throughout the concourse. One merchandise vendor near the stadium said he had sold a disproportionate amount of Stony Brook gear to locals.

“My team isn’t here and Omaha is a college town,” said Nebraska fan and Omaha native Tony Huerta, who fit right in wearing a red Cornhuskers hat. “We’re not necessarily cheering against teams like UCLA but everyone loves the underdog.”

Added Steve Woodworth of Omaha: “They’re the newcomer. We’ve seen these other teams here before. It’s time to give someone else a chance.”

Stony Brook is an easy underdog to like as its program embodies the essence of a rags to riches story. Coach Matt Senk took over the program in 1991 when the Seawolves were playing in NCAA Division III. Twenty one years later, Senk has the Seawolves in their first College World Series as just the second No. 4 seed from a regional to get to Omaha.

The Seawolves have the second best batting average in the nation (.335) and they lead the country in wins. Like UCLA, they had seven players drafted in the MLB’s first-year player draft earlier this month including one in the supplemental first round, junior center fielder Travis Jankowski.

As for UCLA, despite being the No. 2 team in the country and the Series’ No. 2 national seed, Stony Brook’s Cinderella run has helped them fly under the radar. This isn’t unfamiliar territory for the Bruins as TCU went on a similar run during the Bruins last trip to Omaha in 2010. UCLA coach John Savage doesn’t seem to mind.

“If everyone is pulling for them, that’s what college baseball is all about,” Savage said in a press conference Thursday. “We’ll embrace it and go play.”

Local flavor

Stony Brook has four players on its roster from Southern California. Friday’s starter and right-handed ace of staff Tyler Johnson, sophomore outfielder Joshua Mason and sophomore outfielder Michael Hubbard each attended Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino while sophomore right hander Brandon McKnitt attended Bishop Amat High School in La Puente.

Rough outing

Johnson was removed in the top of the third inning after giving up seven earned runs on five hits and walking four. The seven runs surrendered by Johnson on Friday were the most he’s given up all season.

Solo shots

The only run UCLA starter Adam Plutko gave up during Friday’s game was a solo home run to Stony Brook’s senior catcher Pat Cantwell. The only runs Plutko has given up during the postseason have been solo home runs as he threw a complete-game shutout to beat Creighton 4-0 in regional play and threw seven innings in a 6-2 win over TCU in the Los Angeles super regional.

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UCLA v. Stony Brook lineups

OMAHA, Neb. — Here are your lineups for the opening game of the 2012 College World Series between UCLA and Omaha. As the lower seed, UCLA will be the home team. Clouds hang over TD Ameritrade Park but it doesn’t appear as though rain will threaten today’s game.

As is usually the case with opening games, we have a great pitching matchup between UCLA’s Adam Plutko (11-3, 2.56 ERA) and Stony Brook’s Tyler Johnson who went to Crespi High in Encino (12-1, 1.94 ERA). Johnson can go the distance as he’s thrown five complete games this season.

Stony Brook

6 CF Travis Jankowski
3 C Pat Cantwell
5 3B William Carmona
8 2B Maxx Tissenbaum
2 DH Kevin Krause
28 SS Cole Peragine
16 LF Steven Goldstein
25 1B Kevin Courtney
14 RF Sal Intagliata

44 RHP Tyler Johnson

UCLA

25 CF Beau Amaral
8 C Tyler Heineman
7 LF Cody Keefer
20 RF Jeff Gelalich
11 1B Trevor Brown
10 SS Pat Valaika
18 DH Cody Regis
3 3B Kevin Kramer
5 2B Kevin Williams

9 RHP Adam Plutko

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UCLA opens CWS with Omaha’s darling, Stony Brook

OMAHA, Neb. — Greetings from Omaha. I was nearly killed by a combination of demonic rain (anyone ever driven through a Midwest thunderstorm?…insane), lightning and semi trucks on my drive to Nebraska but I’m thrilled to finally be here. I’ll just be bringing you coverage of today’s opener v. Stony Brook. The rain appears to have let up for now but it’s supposed to rain all week so we could definitely see some delays or postponements.

While Stony Brook was busy shocking No. 7 national seed LSU, UCLA’s consistent brand of baseball has kept them as under the radar as an undefeated No. 2 seed could be. All of Omaha is pulling for Stony Brook as the locals love the underdogs. The Bruins faced a similar problem with TCU in 2010 but coach John Savage doesn’t seem to mind.

“If everyone is pulling for them, that’s what college baseball is all about,” Savage said in a press conference Thursday. “We’ll embrace it and go play.”

The Seawolves are playing in their first ever CWS and are just the second No. 4 regional seed to reach the series (Fresno State did it in ’08 and won the title). I’m not picking them to win it but they’re the real deal. They’re hitting .335 as a team (No. 2 in the nation), they lead the country in wins at 52-13 and, like UCLA, had seven players drafted.

Lastly, for all you Valley folks, Stony Brook has three Crespi alumni: Ace of staff and today’s starter senior RHP Tyler Johnson (12-1, 1.91 ERA), sophomore outfielder Joshua Mason and sophomore outfielder Michael Hubbard.

I’ll post lineups when I get them tomorrow. We do know that UCLA will start sophomore RHP Adam Plutko (11-3, 2.56 ERA).

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UCLA headed to College World Series for second time in three years

All season long, UCLA baseball coach John Savage has stressed “sticking to the process.” When things don’t go right for the Bruins, Savage demands that his team not panic and stay calm.

It was nothing new on Saturday when UCLA played small ball, using two sacrifice flies, a squeeze bunt and a passed ball to methodically beat TCU 4-1 to punch its ticket to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. for the fourth time in school history. UCLA remained undefeated as it did not lose a game in either the regional or super regional.

“We chipped away,” Savage said. “We don’t blow anyone out. We hung around. We made everything count.”

While the Bruins’ offense was manufacturing runs, their pitchers were keeping TCU’s (40-22) offense from generating base runners. The Horned Frogs’ only source of runs in the super regional were solo home runs.

“We’re not a power hitting team,” sophomore shortstop Pat Valaika said. “Our game plan is to wear pitchers down. We work really hard to pass the baton and get the next guy to the plate. It worked tonight and it’s worked all season.”

UCLA started the season picked fourth in the Pac-12 and ranked in the mid-20s. With an RPI and strength of schedule in the top five, the No. 2 Bruins worked their way through a difficult non-conference slate that featured playoff teams Baylor and Purdue.

They went on to handle a grueling Pac-12 slate – one that featured five playoff teams – on their way to winning a share the regular season conference championship for the second straight season.

“To come out of the west is one of the hardest things in college baseball to do,” Savage said. “It never gets old. It’s like going to the biggest bowl game or the Final Four. It’s the epitome of college baseball to go to the middle of the country in the middle of June.”

The trek to the Midwest will be the the Bruins’ second in three years as they came up just short of a national championship in 2010, losing to South Carolina in the College World Series final. Six of UCLA’s nine position players were on that team as freshmen.

“That junior class is special and it will go down as one of the best classes in the history of the school,” said Savage, whose team does not have a senior on the roster. “It says a lot about their character and their leadership.”

Oddly enough, UCLA’s (47-14) off year came last season when it had two top-five draft picks in its starting rotation. This year, an improved offensive attack coupled with solid starting pitching and consistency from the bullpen combined to send the Bruins back to the mecca of college baseball.

“We had good chemistry my freshman year and this team is very similar,” junior infielder Trevor Brown said. “We all get along. We have great starting pitching and a great lineup. We feel very blessed to be going back to Omaha.”

Savage is quick to note, however, that these are not the 2010 Bruins. It’s a more mature, more confident group of juniors, six of which were drafted during the first two days of this week’s MLB draft.

“This team has a new identity,” Savage said. “We’re going to be going to Omaha with ‘Bruins’ on our chest but this is a different roster.”

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UCLA needs one more win to punch ticket to Omaha

UCLA will be the road team in Game 2 of tonight’s super regional v. TCU.

The Horned Frogs (40-21) will go with right hander Preston Morrison who is 9-1 on the year with a 1.98 ERA against UCLA’s (46-14) Nick Vander Tuig. Vander Tuig is 9-3 this season with a 4.53 ERA.

Here are tonight’s lineups:

UCLA

25 CF Beau Amaral
8 C Tyler Heineman
7 LF Cody Keefer
20 RF Jeff Gelalich
11 1B Trevor Brown
10 SS Pat Valaika
18 DH Cody Regis
3 3B Kevin Kramer
5 2B Kevin Williams

21 RHP Nick Vander Tuig

TCU

1 CF Kyle Von Tungelin
24 C Josh Elander
0 1B Kevin Cron
35 3B Jantzen Witte
2 2B Derek Odell
31 LF Jerrick Suiter
4 DH Josh Gonzales
5 RF Brance Rivera
26 SS Keaton Jones

18 RHP Preston Morrison

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