OMAHA, Neb. -- During the past 22 years, Stony Brook head coach Matt Senk has taken the Seawolves’ baseball program from an afterthought to national contender.

In 1991, SBU was a Division III program that had posted just six winning seasons since 1966. Through the years, the school transitioned to DII, and in 2000 it began competing at the DI level.

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Since 2004, Senk has guided Stony Brook to four NCAA Regionals – the second-most of the 68 teams in the Northeast Region.

For Senk, thinking outside the box is an integral part of recruiting players for his program. During the better part of the past decade, he has thought way outside the box – recruiting players from Ontario, Canada.

The “Canadian Connection” has definitely provided some talented players. Stony Brook currently features four players from north of the border -- Maxx Tissenbaum (Toronto), Tanner Nivins (Kitchener), Jasvir Rakkar (Brampton) and Cole Peragine (Belle Ewart) – all of whom are solid contributors for the Seawolves and competed in the Premier Baseball League of Ontario as youngsters.

“I had made a connection up there with a gentleman named Dan Thompson, who is an outstanding baseball person,” Senk said. “He had his team on Long Island and he took a liking to what our program was doing. We started recruiting his players, and true to his word, and true to form, those guys were excellent players, excellent student and excellent young men. What more do you want in a student-athlete than that?”

Tissenbaum, a junior second baseman, and Peragine, a freshman shortstop, form a formidable duo in the middle infield. Tissenbaum is the toughest batter to strikeout in DI; he has whiffed just eight times in 234 at bats. Tissenbaum is hitting .389 with 20 doubles and 51 RBI, along with a .967 fielding percentage, good enough to earn First Team All-America East Conference honors.

“I hadn’t even heard of Stony Brook when [assistant] coach Joe Pennucci came up to me at one of the tryout camps for the provincial team,” Tissenbaum said. “He said, ‘I like the way you play, here’s my number.’ I looked them up as soon as I got home. The thing that stuck out was Stony Brook was a really good school with a great business program. It was close enough to home that my parents could still visit without it being a huge investment of time and money.”

Tissenbaum was drafted by his hometown team -- the Toronto Blue Jays -- out of high school, and has consistently raised his stock during college.  Last week, he was picked by the San Diego Padres in the 11th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

“Maxx has been playing second base for us since he stepped on campus,” Senk said.  “He’s been solid defensively, and has turned into a tremendous offensive player.”

Tissenbaum played against Nivens and Rakkar since he was 8 or 9 years old. All three are former shortstops in youth baseball, and played on the Ontario Youth Team as 17 year olds, winning a national championship.

“That was sort of the beginning of it … that was really when we started getting to know each other,” Tissenbaum said.

The younger Peragine knew about his fellow countrymen doing well at Stony Brook, and that definitely made the move 10 hours south from home more intriguing.

“I knew that Maxx and Tanner and Jasvir were already at Stony Brook, so that definitely influenced me in going there, knowing they have that Canadian connection,” Peragine said. 

“In Canada, I don’t believe they give out scholarships to play baseball in the University League. If you really want to pursue baseball, you have to come south of the border to the United States.”

Tissenbaum contacted Peragine on Facebook last summer, and the two formed a bond before meeting face to face.

“The shortstop that was here before – Chad Marshall – was also Canadian,” Tissenbaum said.  “I sort of learned the ropes from him when he was a junior and a senior, and I was more than willing to give Cole whatever help he needed.  I sent him a message … we talked about everything from class schedules to how you manage your money and your time.  He was the first guy I met when the freshmen arrived on campus.”

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Peragine garnered America Rookie of the Year honors and was named to the NCBWA Freshman All-America team after batting .314 with 39 RBI. 

“With Cole – any time you put a freshman out in a position, especially one as important as shortstop – there’s always a little trepidation,” Senk said. “But Cole has played it like a veteran guy. He has been great defensively, which was our first concern, and has given us more than we ever expected offensively.”

While young American baseball players watch the College World Series and dream about making the trek to Omaha, the Canadian players never watched the tournament live while growing up. 

“We didn’t get ESPN because it’s not a Canadian channel,” Peragine said. “We don’t get the live coverage that you get here in the States of all the games.”

“Up until I came here for school and started playing summer ball, I had never really watched the College World Series,” Tissenbaum. “Rogers Sportsnet [Ontario’s ESPN equivalent] would show highlights on the morning on their “SportsCenter”, but that’s it. Last summer, I remember watching the whole tournament. I think a lot of our guys were sitting there watching and thinking, ‘What if …’ I remember thinking, ‘Wow.' ”

Now, that daydream has become a tangible reality for all of the Seawolves.

“[On Wednesday] night, we came over to the stadium and saw the Stony Brook logo near the bullpen between Florida and Arizona and UCLA,” Tissenbaum said. “We just said, ‘Wow, we’re here.’ ”

Yes, they’re here – all the way from Ontario.