After its run to the College World Series in 2012, Stony Brook Baseball looks to get back to the NCAA Tournament this season after getting bounced in its past two seasons.
“We knew we were going to lose guys to the draft [in 2012],” Stony Brook manager Matt Senk said. “We didn’t know we were going to lose seven.”
The following season, Stony Brook finished fourth in the America East and was knocked out by Maine after posting a 1-2 record in the conference tournament.
Last season, the Seawolves had two chances to win the tournament title, but Binghamton took both games, including a 13 inning thriller in the winner-take-all matchup to take their second-straight conference tournament title.
“Binghamton played very well. We had a very good team, but Binghamton played very well,” Senk said.
Casey Baker was a part of that team and struggled in those final games, going 2-for-9 as the Bearcats took the trophy.
“I can’t say here and say we lost that game,” the sophomore said.
Now, it is a new season and hope is looking up for Stony Brook, which returns six position players as well as America East Rookie of the Year Cameron Stone and an America East Pitcher of the Year Candidate Tyler Honahan.
The team was also picked to finish first in the America East’s preseason coaches’ poll, as well as Baseball America and Perfect Game’s preseason conference rankings as well.
Safe to say, there is pressure on this team to get back to the NCAA Tournament in 2015.
“It’s a good thing. You can either embrace it, or be frightened by it,” Senk said. “We are someone who can win a championship and have a really great year.”
As far as the preseason awards go, the 25th-year manager says his team is looking past those.
“It’s more about the process,” the Cortland graduate said. “It’s very much appreciated, but the stuff at the end is what it’s about.”
It may be a cliché, but the season is a marathon, not a sprint. And the marathon begins with a very tough non-conference schedule, starting with Nicholls State from Feb. 13-15 and then playing two regional hosts from a season ago in Louisiana-Lafayette and Florida.
“Those are the ones we definitely look forward to,” Baker said. “Those are the big trips.”
The Ronkonkoma native also added that one of the best feelings he has had was beating USC last season, another big school which resides in the Pac-12 conference.
“That’s why you come here. You want to play those big teams. There’s nothing like it,” the utility player said.
The Gators (eight) and Ragin’ Cajuns (one) have combined for nine trips to Omaha and the College World Series, and Senk knows to be the best, you have to beat the best.
“To be competitive and to do things at the highest level of baseball, you have to play the teams that have been there,” the Seawolves head man stated. “Once you get to a regional, you’re in a comfort zone that you would not have been in had you not played those teams.”
The Seawolves also have two Big East members on the schedule, hosting the Creighton Blue Jays on March 20-22, and then heading to the nation’s capital to take on Georgetown from April 18-19.
“You can never have big wins without big games,” Senk said. Stony Brook certainly has a lot of those on their 2015 slate, and the Seawolves’ first conference matchup will be big as well: a three-game set against the defending champion Binghamton Bearcats at home from March 14-15.
With all of these big games on the schedule, the big question for Stony Brook coming into the season will be its pitching staff, which features seven newcomers.
“Being a freshman is always tough enough,” Senk said. “It’s always a little bit tougher on the freshman because of the non-conference schedule we have.”
But, according to Baker, it soon just turns back into baseball.
“The level of competition isn’t close to anything they have seen before,” he said. “But once you get used to it, the natural feeling of ‘I’ve been doing this for 20 years’ kicks back in.”
As far as potential freshman standouts, Senk pointed to pitcher Nicholas DiEva and infielder Bobby Honeyman as potential candidates.
“We knew [DiEva] had a good arm, but his secondary stuff has been really good,” the manager praised about his Cherry Hills East graduate.
As for the man from Massapequa?
“He’s shown some very nice things offensively and that’s always nice to see,” Senk said about Honeyman.
All freshman have the potential for a big impact, especially with only three pitchers being set in stone, with Ryley MacEachern joining the group of Honahan and Stone. But once the America East schedule starts March 14, they will all be ready.
“They couldn’t have played anybody tougher in the conference than we played out of conference,” Senk said, again refering to the very tough non-conference slate, something he has prided himself on since taking over the program in 1991.
He is looking to lead his squad back to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time during his tenure, and the approach to doing so is very simple.
“If we do what we feel is a very sound approach to the game, and that is we make teams beat us and we don’t beat ourselves,” Senk said.
After a dominant regular season last year, the Seawolves will be looking to do the same. This time, they hope to finish the deal and make the tournament for the first time since 2012.
“We just have to do what we did last year,” Baker said.
Easier said than done, but talk to any member of that squad, and they will say it with the confidence like they are going to finish on top again this year. But this time, they will win it all and head back to the promised land.