Dark horses emerge at CWS
Arkansas, Stony Brook poised to surprise many in Omaha
|Arkansas Razorbacks||Stony Brook Seawolves|
Every college baseball fan around the country is talking about underdogs Stony Brook and Kent State, and if those teams aren’t the topic of conversation this week, then CWS followers are wondering whether South Carolina can win it all – again – or if No. 1 Florida can capture its first title.
UCLA, Florida State and Arizona were all the top seeds in their regionals and hosted Super Regionals, and have had their fair share of publicity throughout the postseason. But there is one team in the eight-team field of the 2012 College World Series that you haven’t heard much about … Arkansas.
Late Monday night, the Razorbacks – the last team to punch its ticket to Omaha -- quietly snuck into the CWS picture thanks to a walk-off single by sophomore catcher Jake Wise in the 10th inning that beat Baylor 1-0 in the final contest of the Waco Super Regional.
The Arkansas pitching staff has been masterful in the postseason, compiling a 2.00 ERA in six games, while striking out 37 batters and walking only nine. Right-handers DJ Baxendale (7-5, 3.18 ERA) and Ryne Stanek (7-4, 2.91 ERA) are a solid starting duo, while RHP Barrett Astin has posted 10 saves in relief.
Arkansas has also been strong defensively, committing just four errors in six games and compiling a .983 fielding percentage.
The Razorbacks are hitting just .211 in the NCAA tournament and have not hit a home run, but in Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park, the long ball isn’t necessarily the path to victory. Just nine home runs were hit in 14 games during the 2011 CWS (the lowest total since 1974), so if the Razorbacks can continue their stellar pitching and defensive efforts, they will be in the game.
In their bracket, the Razorbacks face first-timer Kent State, which could be a slight advantage, as veteran head coach Dave Van Horn has guided two different programs – the Hogs and Nebraska -- to the “promised land”, plus won the 1994 Division II Championship at Central Missouri.
Then, one very familiar Southeastern Conference foe -- Florida or South Carolina -- will be waiting for them in the second contest.
The Razorbacks are completely under the radar in this tournament, and they may just sneak up on us.
Look out college baseball fans … the Razorbacks are “Omahog Bound!”
-- Amy Farnum, NCAA.com
Many will tune in Friday and wonder who they are, even after they knocked out Miami (Fla.) and LSU.
So who are these guys?
They are the Stony Brook Seawolves from Long Island. If you haven’t seen them play -- and even if you have -- know that they can become the second No. 4 seed to win a national championship.Led by head coach Matt Senk, SBU is 52-13, entering Friday’s game against UCLA with the most wins in the nation. The Seawolves are the first team from New York to make it to Omaha since St. John’s in 1980. In case you’re wondering, Stony Brook is about an hour east of New York City.
Many will call them underdogs and a Cinderella story, but the Seawolves have perhaps one of the most dangerous, pesky lineups in the country. They are second in the nation in batting average (.335), eighth in scoring (7.2 runs per game), fourth in runs (468), first in hits (731), second in triples (36), and second in slugging percentage (.483).And it’s not just the lineup that will get you. Just ask LSU. Tyler Johnson and Frankie Vanderka pitched complete games in Baton Rouge to hand the Tigers their first home loss in eight Super Regional-deciding games. That’s right – LSU hadn’t lost a home Super Regional since the NCAA adopted the format.
The pitching staff boasts the 12th-best ERA in the nation at 2.99 and the fifth-best WHIP at 1.16. That last No. 4 seed to win the national title – Fresno State, had a 4.68 team ERA.Stony Brook can field the ball too, boasting a .978 – 12th in the country.
They are well-rounded. Not a surprise, really, since seven players were picked in last week’s MLB amateur draft. Leading the way is centerfielder Travis Jankowski – a scrappy leadoff hitter taken No. 44 overall to the San Diego Padres.
Finally, if you think the bright lights will get to these guys, think again. LSU was 33-4 in night games before Monday’s winner-take-all Game 3 against Stony Brook and had lost only seven times all season at Alex Box Stadium before these Seawolves arrived.
And of course there’s this. The nickname. What are Seawolves? It’s a mythical creature created from a tribe along the Alaskan coast that is said to bring good luck to those who see it. For this Stony Brook bunch, maybe they have.
-- Douglas Kroll, NCAA.com