Former Stony Brook infielder Maxx Tissenbaum stood on the infield dirt between first and second base in Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Shouts of “geaux,” came from the fans behind the first base dugout, while attendees screamed “tigers” from the third base side of the stands.
“It was like a swaying sensation hearing the back and forth,” Tissenbaum, who was drafted in the 11th round of the 2012 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft by the San Diego Padres, said in an email Sunday. “I remember feeling like we were never out of the woods, never safe there because of that first game.”
The Stony Brook baseball team was in uncharted territory—playing Louisiana State University in the Super Regionals— as they looked to reach the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska for the first time.
The Tigers, the SEC Champions and No.7 seed in the tournament, proved why they were the heavy favorites to advance from the best-of-three series with the Seawolves. In a tightly-contested game one that stretched over two days due to rain, LSU managed to find a way to win, the mark of every top team, by scoring a run in the 12th inning to grab the 5-4 victory.
Stony Brook’s backs were against the wall. As Tissenbaum stood there with his eight teammates on a field surrounded by an LSU record-breaking 10,620 screaming fans, neither he nor his teammates were happy, but not only because the Seawolves had just lost their first game.
“We went into the tournament expecting to win, expecting to be able to beat anybody,” Tissenbaum said. “We were bothered by being a four seed rather than happy to be in the bracket.”
With that mentality, David, otherwise known as the Seawolves, came back to beat the Goliath in LSU to reach the College World Series.
“I don’t remember the dog pile at all because I completely just blacked out as Pat Cantwell caught that final strikeout,” Tissenbaum said. “The moment was too big to have ever imagined.”
Tissenbaum got his first crack at the June journey in 2010, when the Seawolves also won the America East crown. For that team, Omaha was a distant thought.
“The sheer fact that we won our conference was a big enough feat,” Tissenbaum said. “Being able to stay at school another week to practice with the team and travel to a regional was enough for us.”
For a small Division I program that had only finished their move from Division III in 1999, Stony Brook suddenly found itself on one of the biggest stages in college sports. The Seawolves “shocked the world“.
Along the way, even in their game one loss against LSU, the Seawolves were having the time of their lives. Former Stony Brook pitcher Brandon McNitt, who was taken in the 27th round of the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft, will never forget the scene as he walked off the mound following seven more-than-solid innings.
“I started the first game and only gave up three hits,” McNitt said in an email Monday. “While coming back to the dugout I got a standing ovation from the LSU crowd.”
Even in enemy territory, the Seawolves’ run was not only giving them attention, but winning over the crowd. Fans in the crowd were jumping on the Stony Brook train.
“I remember our team getting to do a victory lap and giving high-fives to all the LSU fans, who were so gracious even in defeat,” Tissenbaum said. “The whole series had this electric energy, an intensity I’d never experienced before.”
The Long Island team would eventually crash out of the College World Series in Omaha following a 12-2 loss to Florida State, but that would not take away from what the team accomplished.
“I think we did what no one thought we could ever do, what everyone thought was basically impossible,” former infielder William Carmona, a 2012 Philadelphia Phillies draftee who played for that Seawolves squad, said in a press conference following the game. “We made it happen somehow, and I’ll never forget that.”
That trip to Omaha was the culmination of a long journey. For a mid-major team like Stony Brook, there are three steps to get to what many call the “promised land.”
Winning the America East title last week was step one for the 2015 team. It was also crucial, since they were heavily favored as the number one seed in 2014 based on their conference record before falling to Binghamton and did not make it to the NCAA Tournament that year.
“My senior year was the toughest because we should have won the conference championship and could have made another run to the College World Series,” McNitt said, in reference to last year’s disappointing finish. “I could go on about it and how I feel but I probably shouldn’t.”
Now, with the weight of expectation following the magic of 2012, merely making regionals may not be enough to make the student-athletes or fans happy. It all will start Friday afternoon in Fort Worth, Texas, as the No. 3 Seawolves face off against the No. 2 North Carolina State Wolfpack.
In 2012, the Seawolves had to go through the Coral Gables Regional, playing the maximum of five games because they had lost their second game against the University of Central Florida.
“We got to Miami and just played Stony Brook baseball,” Tissenbaum said. “We played aggressive, we played hungry and we played with such a sense of team that we knew we could do it.”
The Seawolves would then move on to the Super Regionals against LSU, and the rest was history. While many may compare the 2015 team to the 2012 squad led by former Seawolves outfielder Travis Jankowski, it is difficult to do so. Senior catcher Cole Peragine is the only student-athlete left from the Omaha team, and he does not even play the same position anymore, having transitioned from shortstop to catcher this year.
Stony Brook is not favored, thus will not have the most to lose. It is only a matter of if it can shock the world again.