It has been a crazy two years for Stony Brook baseball.
In 2012, a veteran team of Seawolves did the seemingly impossible by making it to the College World Series with the most wins in Division I baseball. In 2013, a much younger SBU team started off poorly, losing the first nine games, but battled back to end the season with a 15-15 conference record that secured the team a playoff berth.
This year, the team is still relatively young, with 17 underclassmen on the 28-person roster. But the upperclassmen are experienced, and head coach Matt Senk is extremely optimistic after two years of up and down.
“Our outlook is very good,” he said. “Certainly the up was about as up as you can get, making the College World Series, but I think that last year was really about two slow starts.”
The Seawolves opened last season with an 0-9 record before finally beating Iona in the home opener. According to Senk, this “slow start” stemmed from a failure to do the small things right. This year, he is hoping to change that.
“We are emphasizing the little things that make you either 5-4 or 0-9,” he said.
Senk says the good thing about last year’s slow start is that the “guys gained valuable experience.” With a slew of injuries facing the team at the start of the 2013 season, a lot of freshmen were able to get experience that they might not have had otherwise.
Although officially Stony Brook has a very young roster, the Seawolves were picked to tie with Binghamton—last season’s America East champs — to win the America East conference. Senk believes that comes from the team’s culture and depth.
“I think that has a lot to do with the culture of our program and it also has to do with our style of play,” he said. “If we can get back to that style of play and we buy into our philosophy, then our culture will be fine. If you can take those intangibles with what we have talent-wise, I think we have a legitimate shot to win a championship.”
Talent-wise, the Seawolves are solid. SBU has a lineup that brings plenty of experience to the ball field.
“We’re a lot more confident going into the beginning of this season,” Kevin Courtney, the senior first baseman, said. “Last year we had a lot more young guys and this year a lot of those guys matured and got better over the offseason.”
Those young guys include sophomores Jack Parenty, the left-fielder who was the 2013 America East Rookie of the Year, and Johnny Caputo, who played nearly every game in the 2013 season at third base.
While second base is up for grabs—Senk names junior college transfer Robert Chavarria, sophomore Austin Shives and freshman Jeremy Giles as potentials for the spot—junior Cole Peragine will continue at shortstop, a spot he has held since the 2012 season. Peragine is coming off a season where he made the Cape Cod All-Star team, so Senk is “excited” about the season he has ahead.
Senk says Courtney, who was unable to play in the playoffs last year due to an injury, will be back at first, calling him “one of the best players in the conference” offensively.
Senior Josh Mason is expected to reprise the “terrific job” he did in center field last year, and Senk says freshman Toby Handley and junior Mike Roehrig will both see time in right field, a spot he calls “a bit of a question mark.”
Senior Anthony Italiano and junior Kevin Krause will share time behind the plate. Senk is particularly happy to have Krause’s bat back in the lineup, after he missed most of last season with a hand injury.
“Even though we won’t have a tremendous amount of power 1-9, I think we do enough things offensively—we steal bases, we can situational hit—we’ll manufacture runs we need,” Senk said.
The Seawolves will also rely on their full bench, with a freshman class that Senk calls “extremely capable.”
“It’s a class that could definitely help us [when we need them],” he said. “I think they’ll help us quite a bit.”
The Seawolves coach also has a fully stocked bullpen. Although smarting from the loss of lefty Dan Zamora to an injury, Senk is relying on the rest of his pitching staff to pick it up.
“We feel like we have some depth there, we have some good freshmen that came in, so we think we’ll be strong in our bullpen and our pitching,” he said.
Seniors Frankie Vanderka and Brandon McNitt are the Seawolves’ go-to guys. Senk calls the pair, both vital assets in SBU’s World Series run two years ago, his “one and one-A” rather than his one and two.
“They have a lot of experience,” he said. “Those guys are as good as anybody in our conference.”
With such depth and experience, Senk’s only question is who his third starting pitcher will be.
“Our biggest question mark going into this season, ‘Who’s our number three coming back?’” he said. “But one of the reasons I’m so optimistic is because I think our strength, again, is pitching and defense.”
The Seawolves will start the season off with nine away games down south, in Mississippi, Florida and North Carolina, before the March 4 home opener. Senk is hoping for a performance that’s the complete opposite from last year’s.
“I’m optimistic that we’ll be back and hopefully we’ll have more success — that is, like we normally do — when it comes to tournament time,” he said.
After nine away games, Stony Brook has home games against Iona and Fordham before taking to the road again. Seniors Courtney and Mason hope this will be the year the fans come out to support.
“We would love to see fans out there,” Mason said. “We would love to have some support because we’re supporting Stony Brook and I think it would be nice to see them support us back.”