First, Stony Brook made it into the College World Series and then last night, Kent State played its way into the big event by defeating Oregon 3-2 out in Eugene.
Two newcomers have crashed college baseball's party of blue bloods.
And there have been other party crashers in recent years. The Citadel did it in 1990, Kansas in 1993, Notre Dame in 2002, Louisville in 2007 and Virginia did it twice in 2009 and 2011 (Virginia was actually one of the schools WVU director of athletics Oliver Luck looked at closely when he began formulating his plan for Mountaineer baseball).
So, what does Stony Brook and Kent State really have to do with West Virginia University baseball anyway? Actually a lot - especially if you are new coach Randy Mazey, recently assigned the task of injecting life into a Mountaineer program that has never reached the College World Series and last made the NCAA tournament 16 years ago in 1996.
Mazey has two pretty good examples to study in Stony Brook and Kent State - Stony Brook easily the more unlikely of the two. The Seawolves were playing Division III baseball just 12 years ago and have made the NCAA tournament four times previously in 2004, 2008, 2010 and 2011. But thanks to some financial support from big leaguer Joe Nathan and a lot of hard work from coach Matt Senk (once a PE teacher at Stony Brook because his baseball job was only a part-time position) this Long Island school has now turned the sport upside down.
The Seawolves had less than 300 people in the stands for their American East championship victory over Maine on May 25. Two nights ago, Stony Brook stunned LSU in front of more than 10,000 at jammed-packed Alex Box Stadium, and they will play before three times that number of people at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha in Omaha, Neb., this weekend.
Kent State, the school that once produced Thurman Munson and Steve Stone, has much more of a baseball tradition. The Golden Flashes have been to the NCAA tournament 12 times, with five of those trips coming since 2007. The Golden Flashes have an ex-major leaguer supervising the pitching staff in Mike Birkbeck and a recent history of sending arms to the big leagues (do the names Dustin Hermanson and John Van Benschoten ring a bell?)
Six guys were drafted off of this year’s Kent State club, the highest being seventh round pick David Stern, a senior lefthander who was taken 239th overall – not exactly the top player in college baseball, by the way. Stony Brook actually had seven players drafted off of this year’s team, including supplemental first round pick Travis Jankowski. Heading into this season, the Seawolves had 14 players drafted in the history of their program. By comparision, West Virginia has had 15 players drafted since 2004 alone, including Jedd Gyorko, who is knocking on the door to the big leagues.
So, yes, Mountaineer baseball fans, it can be done.
I asked Baseball America’s John Manuel last week if Mazey will be able to draw a circle around Morgantown and get the players that he needs to be competitive in the Big 12. Manuel commented that it would have to be a pretty big circle.
Well, maybe not.
Take a look at Kent State’s roster. All 27 players on this year’s team are from Ohio and Pennsylvania. Some very, very familiar places such as Peters Township, Pa., Springfield, Ohio, Youngstown, Ohio, Grove City, Pa., St. Clairsville, Ohio, Strongsville, Ohio, Canton, Ohio, Avon Lake, Ohio, Summerhill, Pa., and Gibsonia, Pa., make up this year’s Kent State baseball roster.
The drive down to Morgantown from those places is not very far.
Mazey is very familiar with this area having grown up in Johnstown, Pa., before making a name for himself as a player at Clemson. When it comes to college baseball, the North of today is not necessarily the North as we knew it.
“If you have a league that stretches from the North all the way to the South, teams in the North are typically able to attract quality pitchers that want to compete in the best league in America,” Mazey said last week during his introductory press conference. “This is an attractive place, and hopefully, the success of the basketball and football teams will help us attract kids from other states.”
Mazey said he expects to win fairly soon, despite the dramatic conference upgrade from the Big East to the Big 12 beginning next season.
“I am kind of crazy in that way,” he said. “I am expecting big strides. I am guilty of saying that you can win anywhere if you just get after it. If you do it the right way I really believe you can win.”
Maybe he’s not so crazy. Just ask Stony Brook and Kent State.Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History available in bookstores this fall. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.