Jan. 30, 2012

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Stony Brook Making Name for Itself

By Phil Stanton

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

Phil@collegebaseballinsider.com @RoadToOmaha


In just 12 seasons as a Division I baseball program, Stony Brook has checked off a lot of firsts.


The Seawolves won their first America East title in 2004 and advanced to their first NCAA Tournament. SBU won at No. 11 Virginia in 2009, its first win over a ranked opponent as a D-I program. The Seawolves won their second America East title in three years in 2010 and registered their first NCAA regional win, at 6-2 victory over NC State at the Myrtle Beach Regional. And last season, SBU posted a school-record 42 victories and won its first America East regular-season crown with a 22-2 mark. But a 1-2 finish in the conference tournament ended the campaign abruptly.


Stony Brook is poised for what could be its best season ever and its first on Joe Nathan Field, its brand new facility..


“We’re optimistic,” veteran coach Matt Senk (left) said. “We feel like we can be right in the mix again to not only finish with a record that might put us at the top or hopefully win the regular season like we did a year ago, but more importantly get ourselves ready and peaking at the right time to win the tournament so that we can be playing into June. That’s always a goal of ours and we’re working hard towards reaching that goal again like we have in the past.”


For Senk, the success of the program begins and ends with his players.


“My assistant coaches have done a tremendous job of recruiting, led by my recruiting coordinator Joe Pennucci,” Senk said. “We’re as good as the players we have and I would have to give the credit to them. I’ve been here 22 years and I always think we have a talented group of dedicated young men committed to the program. But especially over the last several years, we’ve really got some talented hard-working players.”


And it’s not just one or two, it’s multiple players. Stony Brook, located on Long Island, sent six to the Cape Cod League this past summer and was the only school with more than one player on the postseason All-Star Team.


The 2011 Cape Cod MVP was speedy centerfielder Travis Jankowski (right) of Stony Brook. The Lancaster, Pa., native batted .329 during the summer for the Bourne Braves with 31 runs, 22 RBI and 15 steals.


“It felt great,” Jankowski said of his MVP award. “It was a tribute to what the coaches at Stony Brook teach you about baseball, about how hard to play every day. It was a reward for all the hard work you put in for basically your whole life.”


Jankowski hit .262 during his freshman season at Stony Brook, and raised his batting average to .355 with 39 runs and 38 RBI last year as a sophomore.


“It was being relaxed but also aggressive at the same time,” Jankowski said. “Swing at the first good pitch that you see and not wait for the pitcher to make a mistake. In high school you can get away with not swinging at the first good pitch because you’re going to get probably two more you can hit pretty hard. But in college you really have to hit that one mistake that a pitcher makes in that at-bat.”


Once he got on base he was on the move:  He was successful on 31 of 34 stolen base attempts.


“Travis was someone that jumped off the charts at us as having great athleticism,” Senk said.  “Not only his speed, but that he played at a high level of football in Pennsylvania as a wide receiver so therefore he had toughness and he was athletic. And on top of it he had a body type we just knew that he would only get bigger and stronger.


“Everything was in place as far as the athlete and it was a matter of getting him here and working with him and him being willing to work and be coached to get him to a level that he would play the game of baseball at a high level.”


But Jankowski wasn’t the best player in the America East in 2011.


That honor went to Willie Carmona (left), the talented two-way player for the Seawolves. Carmona hit .357 during his sophomore campaign with 80 hits and 27 doubles, both school records. That followed a freshman season in which he hit .387 with 74 hits and 48 RBI in being named the conference Rookie of the Year.


“I think I’ve played well but not up to my capability,” Carmona said of his first two seasons at SBU. “I always think I can be better than what I’ve done. I always try to get better every single year.”


Carmona, from Hempstead, N.Y., also contributes on the mound. He was 1-0 in 2011 with four saves in 11 appearances. He allowed 12 hits in 15.1 innings and posted a 1.76 ERA.


Will he pitch again in 2012?


“It’s difficult to not have him help the team in that way if we need it,” Senk said. “This fall, his fastball was sitting at 93 so I would think Willie is looking at not only doing what he does offensively, we’ve got him penciled in to play third base for us, but more than likely he’ll continue to come in and help us close games.”


Along with hitting and pitching, these Seawolves can play some defense as well. SBU led the country a season ago in fielding percentage at .985.


“We emphasize a lot of things on defense,” Carmona said. “Every single day we do drills over and over and over again in order to improve our defense, and we don’t take any time off for defense. If there is ever a practice where we have to choose between hitting or defense, we choose defense because coach is a strong believer in defense and pitching winning games and not offense.”


The other four Seawolves who played in the Cape this past summer include senior catcher Pat Cantwell (.308, 14 2B, 46 R in 2011 for SBU), junior second baseman Maxx Tissenbaum (.343, 20 2B, 5 HR, 55 R, 43 RBI), junior outfielder Tanner Nivins (.313, 14 2B, 38 R, 35 RBI) and senior right-hander Tyler Johnson (9-3, 2.30 ERA, 78.1 IP, 63 H, 17 BB, 62 K).


The Seawolves will have to replace All-American Nick Tropeano, a two-time America East Pitcher of the Year. He was 12-1 a season ago with 14 starts, four complete games and a 1.84 ERA. In 93 innings, Tropeano allowed 63 hits with 24 walks and 119 strikeouts. He was selected in the fifth round of the 2011 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros.


Stony Brook will have several opportunities to measure itself in 2012 as Senk has put together a challenging schedule. SBU plays a three-game set at East Carolina and meets Kansas and Minnesota two times each in the Metrodome.


“We’re always looking to play the most highly competitive non-conference schedule as possible,” Senk said. “The guys want that. They want to go out and compete against the very best that we can schedule, and I think it prepares us well for our conference schedule. If we can do what we need to do by the end of the conference tournament, then we’ve already had some experience playing against some of these programs that play at a level that you’ll see in regionals.”


After the early end to the 2011 season, Stony Brook is ready for a better postseason feeling this time around. Players dream of another first: a Regional title.


“We’re definitely not going to be satisfied with just a conference championship,” Jankowski (left) said. “I think we’d like to make it to the Super Regionals at least. One win in the regionals two years ago was nice, but I think we’re trying to win a regional this year and advance as far as possible.”


Added Carmona: “I want the whole world to know who Stony Brook is,” Carmona said. “Beat a big team, upset people and make it to a Super Regional, maybe the College World Series.”


(photos courtesy of Stony Brook Media Relations Office)