It’s Omaha tradition. Each June, the Nebraskan locals “adopt” an underdog team for which to root at the College World Series. This year there were two contenders for the “Cinderella” moniker – Stony Brook and Kent State – and both ran into dominant pitching to fall in the opening round of the CWS bracket.
Omaha decidedly adopted Joe Nathan’s alma mater Stony Brook. Good choice. But, the city should seriously consider adopting UCLA ace Adam Plutko as their Cinderella pitcher.
In 2011, Plutko emerged as a Freshman All-American, though he was wildly overlooked as UCLA’s Sunday starter due to the Bruins’ legendary one-two punch of junior right-handers Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole. Measuring their respective sophomore seasons, though, Plutko certainly stacks up.
In 2010, Bauer led the nation in with 165 strikeouts while posting a 12-3 record with a 3.02 ERA. Cole was 11-4 with a 3.37 ERA, while ranking third in the nation with 153 strikeouts. Plutko hasn’t been the strikeout king his predecessors were, but he has proved their equal in this his sophomore season with a 12-3 record, while dazzling with a 2.48 ERA.
Stony Brook ran up against Plutko in Friday’s CWS opener, falling 9-1 to No. 1-ranked UCLA. And, Stony Brook never had a chance.
Even before UCLA erupted for five runs in the bottom of first inning, Plutko commandeered the game. The right-hander made a statement by making quick work of the top of Stony Brook’s lineup, setting the side down in order, including strikeouts of the America East Conference’s two top hitters Travis Jankowski (.416 average) and William Carmona (.393 average).
After escaping unscathed from a bases-loaded jam in the second, Plutko went on to dominate, allowing one run on five hits over seven innings, while striking out seven against two walks.
Stony Brook is now on the brink of elimination, though its a familiar and seemingly favorable position for the first AEC team to ever advance to Omaha. The Seawolves are viewed as the epitome of the college baseball underdog. They were lauded as the only No. 4-seeded team to win in regional play this season. And, in both the regional and super regional tourneys, they had to play back from early loses, winning each round with consecutive victories while on the brink of elimination.
Just because Stony Brook is garnering a long-deserved spotlight, however, doesn’t mean the small New York upstarts of the modern baseball era are new to the tradition of winning baseball. While it’s true the Seawolves are reveling in their first 50-win season, they have long been contenders in the AEC. Before surpassing the 40-win mark for the first time last season, Stony Brook posted an above-.500 record in all but two seasons (2005 and 2006) since joining the D-I ranks in 2000.
Kent State was welcomed to its first CWS appearance in the same manner as was Stony Brook. No. 19-ranked Arkansas upended Kent State 8-1 Saturday, behind a masterful performance by junior D.J. Baxendale. While the Razorbacks’ ace isn’t nearly the caliber of UCLA’s elite starters of recent years, he solved a Kent State lineup that paced the Mid-American Conference with a .302 team batting average this season, scattering three hits over 6 1/3 strong innings to earn his team-best eighth win.