From 1976-1986, the University of Maine baseball team made six trips to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
During the next 13 years, as the NCAA continued to alter the Regional pairings and the format that determined the CWS field, the Black Bears program slowly faded back into college baseball obscurity.
Sunday night, Stony Brook University proved that a team from the Northeast can still reach the showcase of college baseball’s best teams.
America East Conference champion Stony Brook became the first team from the region to reach the College World Series since UMaine in 1986 when it beat host Louisiana State University in the deciding game of the Baton Rouge Super Regional tournament.
It was historic accomplishment for the Seawolves (52-13) as well as for the oft-maligned America East and Northeast college baseball.
Stony Brook has been the class of the conference for most of the last several seasons, but this spring has finally put it all together.
Respected head coach Matt Senk, whose teams are known for their attention to fundamentals and execution, mowed down league opponents much of the season en route to a 21-3 conference mark. Stony Brook’s pitching was excellent, but its offense was a wrecking crew that never let up.
The Seawolves came into 2012 with focus and humility after being victimized in part by their own overconfidence in 2011, when UMaine went to Long Island and seized the league title.
Not this time.
This Stony Brook team possesses all the elements of a potential CWS ballclub — deep, effective pitching; a potent lineup all the way through the order; a dependable defense; excellent coaching; and tremendous chemistry.
That said, the Seawolves still had to go out and execute. They did so, coming out of the losers’ bracket to win three straight games to take the Coral Gables (Fla.) Regional, then overcoming No. 7 LSU 7-2 Sunday night, in front of more than 11,000 fans, on the Tigers’ home turf at Alex Box Stadium.
That came after LSU had eked out a 12-inning way in the series opener after a rain delay forced the game to be suspended until Saturday morning. The Seawolves demonstrated tremendous poise and resolve.
As the NCAA made changes to the format in 1988 and 1999 that resulted in the present format of the Division I Baseball Championship, it became apparent the days of a Northeast school making repeated trips to Omaha were over.
As it should be, the high-powered programs from the South and West who had earned top national rankings were not only awarded host sites for Regionals, they were named Super Regional hosts.
That provided a tremendous advantage for those teams, who play in front of raucous, partisan crowds while enjoying the frills of their posh home facilities.
Some thought a Northeast team would never again be able to run the gauntlet of national powers to get to the College World Series.
Stony Brook has proven that it’s possible. It s only the second No. 4 regional seed ever to earn its way to the CWS.
This Stony Brook team is special and in future years it will take a team laden with similar talent and resolve to repeat such a feat.
For other America East programs, including UMaine, the Seawolves’ incredible run should serve as motivation and a source of pride that Northeast baseball is capable of competing with the big boys.
And don’t be shocked if Stony Brook is in the hunt for a national championship before all is said and done.