Seawolves aren't underdogs to Tigers

BATON ROUGE – It's odd that on a weekend when LSU will play the role of the college baseball version of the New York Yankees, the underdog in the story will come from the Empire State.

While LSU (46-16), the six-time national champion and No. 7 national seed, will be the heavy favorite for its Super Regional matchup against upstart Stony Brook at Alex Box Stadium, the Tigers are hardly thinking of the America East Conference champion as the No. 4 seed that caught lightning in a bottle to win the Coral Gables, Fla., regional last week.

"I wouldn't even call them an underdog or a four seed," LSU shortstop Austin Nola said. "I look at them as a No. 1 seed, like us. They are just as good as us. They have great players on their side and they have a lot of talent."

While LSU fans who are considering making it out to the ballpark for the 11 a.m., made-for-TV start times for the first two games of the Super Regional might never have heard of Stony Brook, baseball people certainly have. The Seawolves (50-12) have the most victories of any team in college baseball and the most in the nation in the last two seasons (92).

LSU coach Paul Mainieri pointed out that seven Stony Brook players were drafted in the MLB First-Year Player Draft earlier this week, two more than those drafted from LSU.

Mainieri said Tigers fans might not fully appreciate it. He said the media will play up the underdog storyline. His team, however, has the proper respect.

"If they beat us, it will be because they outplayed us," Mainieri said, "and not because we take them lightly."

Nola played in the Cape Cod League last summer, playing with and against six Seawolves, including three Cape Cod League all-stars. Not only did Stony Brook's players impress Nola and other Tigers on the Cape, it gave Seawolves players confidence that they could compete with big-name, Sun Belt programs. In Coral Cables, Stony Brook beat Miami, Missouri State and Central Florida.

"With a half dozen of our guys playing in the cape last year, I think they've gotten into a comfort zone that 'these guys are very much like ourselves,' " Stony Brook coach Matt Senk said. "With a half dozen guys there, three making the all-star team and one being asked to be in the home run derby, they became very comfortable with their level of play and their abilities."

It's translated into a season in which the Seawolves have hit .336 as a team, and they haven't just been piling on against weak competition. Stony Brook scored 50 runs in the Coral Gables Regional. The Seawolves have eight regulars hitting better than .300, led by center fielder Travis Jankowski (.417), a supplemental first-round draft pick of the San Diego Padres this week.

They'll face LSU's outstanding pitching staff. Tigers ace Kevin Gausman (11-1, 272 ERA), the No. 4 overall pick in the draft by Baltimore, will get the Saturday start against Stony Brook's No. 1, right-hander Tyler Johnson (11-1, 2.13). Both aces had their starts pushed back a day after extensive regional work. Johnson started twice in Coral Gables, the second on two days' rest. Gausman threw a season-high 129 pitches in his win Saturday over Oregon State.

On Friday, LSU will start freshman right-hander Aaron Nola (7-4, 3.66) against Stony Brook sophomore Brandon McNitt (8-3, 2.69).