Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Stony Brook baseball winning while at home on road

By DENNIS WASZAK Jr., AP Sports Writer

NEW YORK (AP)—Stony Brook’s baseball team has piled into buses and hit the road for home games all season.

It’s certainly been a strange and successful year for the nomadic Seawolves (34-10), a resilient bunch while their ballpark received a facelift. Show ‘em a field, and they’ll play on it—and probably win, too.
“We really have been bouncing around, but we all take it in stride,” sophomore infielder and reliever William Carmona said. “When it all comes down to it, though, it doesn’t matter where we play.”
That’s because the America East-leading Seawolves are on the verge of setting the school record for victories, just three from topping the 1999 team that won 36 games while still playing at the Division II level. Coach Matt Senk’s squad has also thrown two no-hitters—the first in the program’s history — and is tied for the Division I lead in fielding percentage.
“Not having a field obviously wasn’t too pleasant, but we didn’t think about it too much,” junior right-hander Nick Tropeano said. “We all talked and said, ‘Hey, it’s baseball, so let’s keep taking as many groundballs and flyballs as we can, no matter where it is.’ Despite the adversity, we’ve overcome it.”
It appears the Seawolves can finally settle in at home now and leave the bus rides for actual road trips. Stony Brook practiced for the first time Tuesday on Joe Nathan Field, named for the former Seawolves shortstop and Minnesota Twins All-Star closer who donated $500,000 to the program.

“It’s hard to get guys to go to that school,” Nathan said before the Twins’ game against the Detroit Tigers in Minnesota on Wednesday. “You bring them in and show them the (old) field and that’s not going to be something that impresses them. So hopefully this field is something that helps a player’s decision-making process to go there.”
The team expects to play there during its last regular-season series next weekend, and hopes to host the conference tournament if it maintains its hold on first place.

“It’s definitely going to make an improvement,” said Nathan, who gets regular updates on the team from athletic director Jim Fiore. “The players were pumped to get on it. Anytime you get a new toy, you’re excited to play with it. Hopefully it brings excitement and only greater things to come.”
The team hoped the field, which has a FieldTurf surface, would be ready to start the season. But a lousy winter and spring in the Northeast delayed the completion and sent the Seawolves looking for alternative locations for home games. Practice was limited to the turf inside the school’s new track and indoors on campus.

“We all made jokes about it and said it’s called ‘No Nathan Field,”’ Carmona said with a laugh. “And then when we’re on a bus, we’re like, ‘Oh, I guess we’re playing at home today.”’
Despite all that, the Seawolves are 10-3 at “home”: 4-1 at Dowling College in Brookhaven, 3-0 at New York Tech in Old Westbury, 2-1 at the Baseball Heaven Sports Complex in Yaphank, and 1-1 at Adelphi in Garden City.

“I’ve never been around a more resilient group,” said Senk, in his 21st season at Stony Brook. “Whether it was another snowstorm or another batch of bad weather, whatever has come this group’s way, they haven’t complained or moaned. It’s just been, ‘Tell us where we have to be, coach, and let’s play.”’
The Seawolves, 15-2 in the America East and 2 1/2 games ahead of Binghamton, have been doing it with solid pitching, terrific defense and timely hitting.

“When we go out to the ballpark, we really expect to win,” Carmona said. “We just don’t expect to lose, ever.”
Tropeano heads the pitching staff, going 9-1 with a 1.36 ERA and four complete games. Last year’s conference co-pitcher of the year, whom Senk calls the most competitive player he’s coached, also combined with freshman Brandon McNitt (6-2, 1.55) on a no-hitter against Army in March. It came just over a week after freshman Frankie Vanderka tossed one against NJIT. McNitt also came within three outs of a seven-inning no-no last weekend.

“I never thought I’d be able to coach a team that had a no-hitter, and to have two happen within a five-game span was just incredible,” Senk said. “The pitching showed early signs they were going to be very good.”

The offense has also done its part with Carmona (.370, five homers, 34 RBIs), center fielder Travis Jankowski (.373, 2, 33 and 29 stolen bases), second baseman Maxx Tissenbaum (.333, 2, 37) and third baseman Stephen Marino (.329, 5, 37). Stony Brook is ranked in the top 10 nationally with a .318 team batting average and is second with 122 doubles, led by Carmona’s 25, which ties a school record.

Stony Brook has its sights on its third NCAA tournament appearance in four years. The Seawolves know they can win on the big stage, too, after upsetting North Carolina State in the regionals last year for their first NCAA tourney victory. And that, not to mention all those bus rides around Long Island, has made the Seawolves even hungrier.

“We are under the radar,” Carmona said. “I mean, we’re a small school from Long Island, we play in the Northeast, but when we go out on the road or go down South, everyone knows who Stony Brook is when we leave. They can call us underdogs or whatever, but I’ll take this team any day against anybody.”

AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.