That the end of the 2012 LSU baseball season screeched to a halt in a place that has been so cozy and conducive to one postseason comeback after another made it even tougher to choke down.
What wasn't as bitter to digest, though, was the simple fact that for all the underdog and Cinderella and us-against-the-world talk, Stony Brook simply came into Alex Box Stadium and legitimately beat the Tigers.
The Seawolves put the finishing touches on an unthinkable Super Regional triumph Sunday night, charging past No. 1-ranked LSU 7-2 in the decisive game.
Stony Brook (52-13) marches on to the College World Series for the first time in school history and ends the Tigers' bid for a 16th trip.
The 16th-ranked Seawolves will ride a wave of unprecedented postseason success as the first New York City-area team to get to the CWS since St. John's did so in 1980 and the first team from the Northeast since 1986.
Center fielder Travis Jankowski paced a 15-hit onslaught with four hits, Maxx Tissenbaum pounded run-scoring doubles to anchor the back-to-back innings when the Seawolves did most of their damage and sophomore right-hander Frankie Vanderka handcuffed the Tigers (47-18), limiting them to three hits in a complete-game performance.
Make no mistake: This was a thorough beating the last two days after LSU surged back to force extra innings in the series opener with three straight game-tying solo home runs in the opener and won it on a 12th-inning single after the game was suspended for 17 hours.
The Sea Wolves outscored the Tigers 14-8, outhit them 35-15 and limited LSU's offense to a .153 batting average (15 for 98).
"That team can play with anybody," Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said. "That team could compete with anybody in our league.
"We have no excuses. They outplayed us, really in every phase of the game. It's hard for me to find weaknesses in their team. I would not be one bit surprised if Stony Brook goes on to win the national championship. I cannot imagine anyone in the country being better than that team. If they are I would like to see them."
No. 2 national seed UCLA will get the next crack at derailing the Seawolves when the teams meet Friday in the first round of the CWS at TD Ameritrade Park.
Even after his team wrapped up the spot in Omaha, that notion seemed a little farfetched to Stony Brook coach Matt Senk, who came to the school on the northern edge of Long Island, N.Y., in 1991 when sports were Division III and has now guided the Seawolves to college baseball's grandest stage.
"I'm a little overwhelmed, quite frankly, because I think I do know the magnitude of this," Senk said. "To make it to Omaha is every college baseball player's and every coach's dream and it's come to fruition."
LSU's emotions were at the other end of the spectrum.
|Mason Katz gave the Tigers some early hope when he belted a solo home run to even the score 1-1.|
The Tigers were stopped short of Omaha for the third year in a row, this time losing a Super Regional at home for the first time since the format began in 1999.
The Tigers won the SEC regular-season championship and delivered the best record before tournament play since 1997 (42-14). All that seemed hollow as they began the process of coming to grips with a season suddenly done.
"We left everything out on the field, and we have no regrets about this year," said shortstop Austin Nola, one of five seniors who played his final college game. "I enjoyed every bit of it, and it's going to be hard to swallow for a few days. We're just going to have to fight through it right now."
Added Mainieri, "All of a sudden it's over. The suddenness is just awful."
As has happened so often in Stony Brook's magical postseason run – and in each of the three games with LSU – the Seawolves jumped ahead in the first inning. This time they followed that up by piecing together a big early inning to break the game open.
Stony Brook broke out to a quick 1-0 lead in the first inning against Tigers starter Ryan Eades, who took the loss (5-3). Jankowski, a pest all weekend, flared an opposite-field leadoff single and moved to second on Pat Cantwell's bunt on an 0-and-2 pitch. Willie Carmona continued to torment the Tigers when he lashed a line drive into center field to plate Jankowski.
LSU answered immediately when Mason Katz, the hero in the series opener with an RBI single in the 12th off of Vanderka, cranked a solo home run into the left-field seats with two outs to knot the score 1-1.
That seemed to be a sign the Tigers were maybe ready to go toe-to-toe with Stony Brook's prolific offense. Vanderka made sure it was a minor blip.
"We had two outs, so I was going up there trying to battle, trying to have a big swing," Katz said. "I got a good pitch I could handle, and I put a good swing on it.
"It was one of the very few mistakes that kid made all night."
Eades didn't fare as well. He recorded a 1-2-3 inning in the second, but trouble immediately started brewing in the third.
Jankowski pumped the first pitch of the frame to right-center field for a double and that triggered a three-run uprising – all three scoring with two outs.
After another Cantwell bunt, Eades flirted with escaping the threat when he struck out Carmona for the second out. But Tissenbaum rifled a double down the right-field line, Kevin Krause lined a single to center and Steve Goldstein dropped another hit into right field to swell the lead to 4-1.
|Eades: Allowed 4 runs and 7 hits before being lifted in the third inning, his shortest stint of the season.|
Mainieri yanked Eades after the third consecutive hit, but the hook came two batters too late. The LSU coach said afterward he was hoping to get three innings from the sophomore, but by the time the bullpen got busy, Eades was in deep trouble.
The Tigers were poised to claw back into the game in the bottom of the third when Vanderka walked two of the first three batters. But he struck out Katz on a high fastball and caught a break when Raph Rhymes' shot down the left-field line was inches foul. Two pitches later Rhymes popped out to end the frame, and as it turned out, all but extinguish LSU's hopes.
Vanderka cruised through the sixth inning, barely breaking a sweat and frustrating the Tigers hitters as each inning rolled by.
The Seawolves pushed across two more runs in the fourth on Tissenbaum's two-run double right after he nearly struck out when he fouled a pitch off the end of his bat on a full count.
Katz's homer was the only hit Vanderka permitted until the seventh when Alex Edward popped a one-out double to right-center field and Tyler Hanover rammed a single to center. Nola's sacrifice fly scored Edward.
But that was as much noise as LSU mustered against Vanderka.
Even when the Tigers managed to get solid swings and good contact against the Seawolves' righty, their defense was suffocating. Of the 27 outs Vanderka recorded, 16 were on popups or fly balls.
And not all of them were routine as Goldstein in left field, Jankowski in center and Sal Intagliata in right field gobbled up everything that came their way.
"Their defense was phenomenal. I felt like there were playing with five outfielders," Katz said.
|Raph Rhymes: He went 0-for-4 Sunday and 1-for-13 in the Super Regional|
Added Rhymes, who was 0-for-4 Sunday and 1-for-13 in the series, "We hit balls hard, but they just found some gloves (Sunday). You have to give credit to Stony Brook, to their pitching and to their defense."
All thrown together and mixed up, the Seawolves' early outburst, stingy pitching and lockdown defense combined with LSU's offensive struggles to add up to a final night and long weekend of ineptitude that cost the Tigers their season.
Four of LSU's eight runs in the series came on solo home run swings and the Tigers never forced Stony Brook to come to bat facing a deficit in 29 offensive at-bats.
"We're just weren't up the challenge of matching their offense," Mainieri said.
"It wasn't just big hits. It was any hits really. We couldn't get anything going."
"This is obviously a very tough thing to deal with for us. We had every expectation that we were going to win this Super Regional and head off to Omaha this week, but things do not always work out the way they are planned."
|Kevin Gausman: Was a major reason for Tigers' success this season with a 12-2 record|
Now those plans include a challenging offseason for Mainieri and his coaches.
The sixth-year Tigers coach accurately pointed out that "in a lot of ways (LSU) overachieved." That means there is also plenty of room for improvement.
Strong pitching from ace Kevin Gausman (12-2) and in stretches from Eades and Aaron Nola and a deep and versatile bullpen made the Tigers tough to beat. That pitching combined with a rock-solid defense helped camouflage some offensive shortcomings.
As anemic as the Tigers' bats were in the Super Regional, there were some positives. LSU remains the SEC's leader in runs scored with 397 – 11 more than Florida, which has at least two games to play in Omaha. Rhymes spent most of the season as the nation's top hitter and finished at .431, while Katz finished at .320 with 13 home runs and leads the SEC with 65 runs scored.
Consistency was a problem after those two hitters in the middle of the order, though, with no other regular above .300. A lack of power and speed forced Mainieri to be creative on the base paths with hit-and-runs, and that strategy backfired as much as it worked. Even with some occasional gambling, LSU grounded into 47 double plays, tied for the most in the SEC.
Mainieri shored up the pitching staff by hiring Alan Dunn after last season and now has to take a long, hard, serious look at hitting coach Javi Sanchez, who played for Mainieri at Notre Dame and has been with him since Day 1 at LSU. With the exception of a handful of hitters the last two seasons, the Tigers' offense hasn't looked healthy against front-line pitching.
"What it's going to be now is it will be the coaches' jobs to figure out a way for us to get better and be able to take the next step," Mainieri said.
Before all that happens, though, the first task for the Tigers is to figure out a way to come to grips with the raw, simple fact that the 2012 season is over.
Over a big step short of where LSU expected to be.
"Right now I just hurt for these kids, especially the seniors and the kids that will not be back," Mainieri said. "They have given so much to our program, the university, and we are going to miss them dearly. I wish we could have sent them out with one more trip to Omaha."