Nathan's alma mater making first trip to CWS
Underdog Stony Brook shocks LSU to advance
ARLINGTON -- Joe Nathan wasn't a highly touted prospect coming out of school. Fortunately for Nathan, though, his high-school baseball coach was roommates with Stony Brook head baseball coach Matt Senk. Nathan used that connection to his advantage and, 18 years after enrolling there, the Seawolves dedicated their baseball field after him.
"I wasn't a very highly recruited guy. I was a light-hitting shortstop and weighed 155 pounds when I got to Stony Brook," Nathan recalls. "I was comfortable with Coach Senk and went out and had a good [sophomore] season and it took off from there. He allows his players to succeed and he knows how to win games."
Nathan's alma mater will make its first appearance in the College World Series this week after taking two of three games from LSU in Baton Rouge over the weekend.
The Seawolves dropped the first game of a best-of-three series on the Tigers' home field after allowing game-tying home runs in the ninth, 10th, and 11th innings Friday before a rain delay forced the decisive 12th inning to be played Saturday. In that 12th inning, LSU scored and held on to win, 5-4. But Stony Brook bounced back, winning on Saturday, 3-1, and Sunday, 7-2, to earn its first trip to Omaha for the 2012 College World Series.
"I don't want to call it an upset," Nathan said. "I think Stony Brook's attendance this year was 5,800, for the whole season. LSU averages, per game, around 10,000. So that kind of gives you an example of what these kids were coming into. They didn't let the crowd affect them. They didn't let calls that went against them affect them. It just shows you how strong these kids are."
Nathan led the Seawolves to their first Division III tournament appearance in his final season at Stony Brook. He made a $500,000 donation to the school's athletic department in 2008 and the baseball field was named after him in 2011. In his first season with the Rangers, Nathan, 37, has 12 saves and posted a 1.82 ERA, not allowing a run in his last 11 appearances.
When Nathan left Stony Brook in 1995 (he graduated in 1997), his expectations went only as far as the baseball team becoming a Division II program. Visions of Omaha never crossed Nathan's mind.
"I didn't see it happening this quick," Nathan said. "They've always brought in pretty good talent and it's obviously shown as they've continued that success. The success was always out there. I think it wast just a matter of putting together wins."
This season, Senk has led the Seawolves to an NCAA-best 52 wins heading into the College World Series. His Stony Brook team boasted the nation's best fielding percentage at .985, its .335 batting average is currently second-best in the country, and the Seawolves are one of 12 teams in the country with a sub-3.00 ERA at 2.99. Stony Brook outfielder Travis Jankowski, the 44th-overall pick in this year's First-Year Player Draft, leads the nation with 109 hits and boasts a .422 batting average.
Fresno State in 2008 was the last team that earned a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Regionals to reach the College World Series . The Bulldogs won it all that year. The Seawolves will look to do the same and Nathan won't count them out.
"You look up and down this lineup and one through nine, they're so deep," Nathan said. "They make the opposing pitchers throw a lot of pitches. They're very competitive. As long as their pitchers can go out and hold teams in check a little bit, they seem to have shocked the world a little bit, they can surprise some people for sure."
The Rangers selected Stony Brook catcher Patrick Cantwell with the 123rd-overall pick in the third round of the 2012 Draft last Tuesday. Cantwell, considered one of the nation's top defensive catchers, is batting .296 with four home runs, 13 doubles, and 38 RBIs this season. He was hitless in 11 at-bats during the three-game Super Regional. Cantwell is one of seven Stony Brook players selected in this year's Draft.
"Anytime you have a chance to get on national television, you get your name out there and your face out there," Nathan said. "Top recruits are going to see that you don't have to play in the South or the West to go to a top school. You can go to the Northeast."
Stony Brook, after advancing to its first Super Regionals in school history, became the third team to earn a No. 4 seed in the Regionals and reach the College World Series, which begins Friday.
"They had to believe," Nathan said. "Now everyone is getting a chance to see what the Seawolves can do."
Christian Corona is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.