When asked to put Stony Brook’s victory Sunday into words, star center fielder Travis Jankowski turned to his right, patted Frankie Vanderka on the shoulder and gave credit where it was due.
“Tonight, it’s all about this big guy right here,” Jankowski said of the guy who held LSU to two runs on three hits, going the distance in the process. “He put it all on the line for us.”
LSU fans can point to a multitude of reasons why the Tigers’ offense struggled so mightily this weekend.
But it’s hard to discount Vanderka’s performance, considering what happened the last time he stepped onto the Alex Box Stadium pitcher’s mound.
Vanderka entered in the 12th inning of Game 1, coming in the morning after watching his fellow pitchers surrender one clutch run after another.
It didn’t go any better for Vanderka, who faced only three batters before Mason Katz cleared the stadium with a game-winning single in LSU’s 5-4 victory in the Super Regional opener.
But as Vanderka and his teammates milled around the team’s hotel before the deciding Game 3, no one dwelled on that disastrous ending, only what it would take to go to Omaha.
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“Winning the last game, that’s what we talked about in the hotel all morning,” Vanderka said. “I just went out there and threw strikes. That’s all I was trying to do.”
Like the two starting pitchers before him, Vanderka didn’t light up the radar gun. His fastball resided in the upper-80s, but he stayed in the strike zone. He worked both sides of the plate and kept LSU hitters off balance with a consistent curve ball.
“Their pitcher tonight was phenomenal,” said Katz, who tagged Vanderka for a solo home run in the first inning. “When he got ahead in counts, he didn’t have to throw a fastball down the middle. He could flip his curveball in for a strike; he could flip his changeup in for a strike.”
Though he would eventually throw all nine innings, Vanderka’s night nearly ended in the fourth inning. After walking his fourth batter of the night – a free pass to Grant Dozar with one out – Stony Brook coach Matt Senk warned his pitcher that one more walk would be the end of his night.
“I couldn’t let that happen,” Vanderka said.
With his replacement ready in the bullpen, Vanderka went back to throwing strikes and retired two of the next three batters he faced – the third reaching on an error by third baseman Willie Carmona. Vanderka never issued another walk, and aside from two hits in the seventh inning, retired every other batter he faced after that fourth inning.
Vanderka capped it off with his fifth strikeout, the 27th out of the game and the Seawolves’ ticket to Omaha. But as Senk watched his team celebrate in the Alex Box infield, he couldn’t help but remember how far Vanderka had come since that disheartening defeat from Saturday morning.
"It seems like a million years ago, and here he is pitching a complete game,” Senk said. “There are so many examples of [this team’s] resiliency, and Frank’s performance is another example of it.”