Season Ends But Stony Brook’s Story Will Live On

June 18, 2012

Storybook Season Ends….

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Stony Brook head coach Matt Senk guided his team to a record 52 wins in 2012 (Photo CB360′s Pete LaFleur)

OMAHA, Neb. — In a span of eight days Stony Brook took the college baseball world by storm by doing things that no one outside of Long Island thought possible. In a span of three days in Omaha Stony Brook’s fairy tale ride to college baseball’s promised land came to an end.

Matt Senk had reason to be singing Movin’ Out after his team, a No. 4 seed in the Coral Gables Regional, started its run by toppling the host Hurricanes back on June 1. Three more wins that weekend followed by two the next weekend against No. 7 national seed LSU gave Billy Joel’s neighbors a trip to Omaha.

We’ll all forgive Senk if he was making love to his tonic and gin Sunday night after seeing his record setting season come to an end with a 12-2 loss to powerful Florida State.

“I sure hope what these young men have done – the tremendous accomplishments ‑‑ I think they’ve already done so much for the university in so many different ways,” Senk said after the game in his final postgame CWS press conference.

It’s one thing to read those words, but it was another thing to watch and listen to them come out of the baseball lifer’s mouth. Senk, who built this “beautiful baseball team” up by hand from Division III status, choked back tears in between long pauses as he absorbed the reality of it all Sunday afternoon.

Florida State head coach Mike Martin gave that “beautiful” moniker to Senk’s team. Martin is in the midst of his 15th trip to Omaha with his Seminoles and fully appreciates what Stony Brook’s run means to college baseball.

“I think it opens a number of doors to a number of teams that maybe didn’t think they would ever have this opportunity,” Martin praised afterward. “Stony Brook didn’t just push the door open; they knocked it down by accomplishing what they did in Baton Rouge.”

Martin has been on both sides of David and Goliath battles over the years. There is even a touch of symmetry to the fact that Senk beat Paul Mainieri’s LSU team last week, while this year marks the 10th anniversary of Mainieri’s Cinderella Notre Dame squad slaying Martin’s No. 1 ranked Seminoles to make the Irish the 2002 CWS.

Stony Brook and Kent State are the northern most teams to reach the promised land since then.

“It gives all of the teams in so called cold weather climates that belief that hey, we’re gonna get this done also,” Martin proclaimed. “Don’t be surprised if another team from the northeast shows up in the very near future in Omaha, Nebraska.”

Other northeastern teams, like UConn last year and St. John’s this year, have come close, but it was Senk’s scrapping Seawolves that managed to break down the door through the Super Regionals and on to Omaha.

“I’ve heard so many people from northeast baseball wishing us luck and saying how proud they were, Senk said of the outpouring he’s received   So hopefully it will go even as far as that.

Before his own team’s miraculous run Senk said the best sports memory he had was when Chris Mullin led the neighboring St. John’s basketball team to the 1985 Final Four. Senk was just in the early stages of his own career at that time – coaching in the high school ranks in the ‘80s prior to taking the Stony Brook helm in 1991.

Omaha is a long way from those Division III days.

Willie Carmona was one of seven Stony Brook players drafted earlier this month (Photo CB360′s Pete LaFleur)

It’s doubtful that the CWS was even in Senk’s wildest dreams in those days-especially considering Omaha wasn’t even on most of his own players’ minds when workouts began last fall.

“Absolutely not,” slugging third baseman Willie Carmona quickly answered when asked if he was thinking CWS just nine months ago. “I knew we were gonna be pretty good and I knew we were gonna win some games, but never in my wildest imagination did I think we would be (among) the last eight teams in Omaha.”

Carmona smacked a team-high 12 home runs during what the record books will show is the best season in the history of any Stony Brook sport. He also drove-in more runs (72) and helped his team win more games (52) than fans who attended the typical Stony Brook home game.

“We come from a place where we may have at the most 50 fans,” Carmona flatly surmised after his team’s 66th and final game of 2012. “We went to Baton Rouge where there was 11,000 people rooting against us. Then we came here and there were 15,000 people rooting for us. It’s been a swing of momentum the entire year.”

It’s a pretty good bet that, bundled in blankets or not, there will be a good deal more than 50 fans in the stands at Joe Nathan Field when the Seawolves play their first home game next March.

“I sure hope what these young men have done, the tremendous accomplishments ‑‑ I think they’ve already done so much for the university in so many different ways,” Senk said of the immediate impact his Seawolves have had on both his school and Long Island.

“Hopefully this team has done some things that will have a ripple effect that goes on for a long, long time as far as, like I said, for our athletic department, our university, the Long Island community.”

If Stony Brook’s story is turned into a movie Martin should be the narrator.

“Stony Brook is a great story,” Martin said before boarding the FSU team bus after Sunday’s win that sent Stony Brook home. ”They weren’t given anything. They earned every single thing they accomplished all year long.”

It was easy for Martin to rhapsodize about 2012’s darling after his own team’s victory, but it was much tougher for Senk, who was just named National Coach of the Year, to put his own spin on it

Stony Brook is what the College World Series is all about. Carmona grew up a stone’s throw from Stony Brook, but his baseball journey took him on a trip he will never forget.

“For a kid that grew up with very little to come to a place and have everyone know him is just unbelievable,” the Philadelphia Phillies’ 11th round draft pick said. “I never in a million years would have thought we would make it to the College World Series.”

The pain of two lopsided losses at TD Ameritrade might be too much to swallow right now, but years from now Senk, Carmona, Travis Jankowski and the rest of the Seawolves will gather at the bar to laugh and reminisce about their improbable run.

Son can you play me a memory.

I’m not really sure how it goes.

But it’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete when I wore a younger man’s clothes…

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