Well, here they are again. For the second straight season and the fourth time in five years, manager Matt Senk and his Stony Brook baseball team are the top seed in the upcoming America East Baseball Championship. But it has been more of a blessing than a curse, as the Seawolves have only taken advantage of one of those top seeds, and that was their eventual trip through Coral Gables, Florida and Baton Rouge, Louisiana en route to the 2012 College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
Now, with only one player remaining from that cinderella squad, senior catcher Cole Peragine, Stony Brook is looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since then.
For Senk, it is all about pitching and defense. But this year’s team is not all about that. The Seawolves have the bats to backup, or save depending on its performance, their pitching staff.
The team’s ERA on the conference season finished at 3.09, which is 47 points lower than second-place UMBC’s. Take out a couple of outliers like 10-9 and 12-10 losses to Hartford and a 13-2 game dropped to Binghamton, and the Seawolves’ ERA would be well under three.
Besides these three gaudy run totals, the staff led by junior Tyler Honahan and sophomore Daniel Zamora only allowed a team to reach six runs on one other occasion in their other 20 conference games.
It was not individual pitchers stealing the show either. The leading starter in ERA is Zamora who stands at fifth in the conference at a 2.97 mark. Another sophomore, Ryley MacEachern (3.16) is fifth and Honahan (3.35) is ninth.
So how did they do it?
The answer lies in a dominant bullpen. If the Seawolves are leading after the sixth inning, forget about a comeback. Stony Brook’s relievers, led by freshmen Teddy Rodliff and Kevin Kernan along with sophomore and reigning America East Rookie of the Year Cameron Stone, have done a terrific job closing down games to the tune of a 24-1 record if the Seawolves are winning after six innings in every game this season.
To further the point, the Seawolves are outscoring their opponents 92-43 in the final three innings, plus extras.
But not only are the arms working in the final third of a game, the bats are too; the third and fourth highest-scoring innings this season are the seventh and eighth frame.
This is where the strength of the team was projected to be at the beginning of the 2015 season, when the team headed to Louisiana for a three-game tilt with Nicholls State.
Six starting position players were back and it looked as though the bats were going to carry this team if it were to go far.
Boy, did they ever.
The Seawolves hit an incredible .318 in-conference this season, with second-place and two-time defending champion Binghamton hitting .282.
The Bearcats will not have a chance to make it a three-peat, as they finished last in the nine-team conference and the tournament only allows the top four teams in.
Stony Brook has four of the top six hitters by average in the conference, with sophomore first baseman Casey Baker (.412) and fellow classmate, centerfielder Toby Handley (.378), sitting one-two at the top of the leaderboard in that category. Junior third baseman Jack Parenty (.367) sits two spots below in fourth and senior second baseman Robert Chavarria (.354) sits two spots below Parenty.
The Seawolves have also accumulated 23 triples in conference play this season, which is equivalent to the next four team totals combined.
Parenty produced seven triples in total this season, which ties him for ninth all-time on the single-season triples list in the America East.
The experience of six starters returning is also prevalent, as the Seawolves have drawn 20 more walks than the next team on the list.
The bats are going to be needed when Stony Brook faces the opposing pitching in the tournament that starts Thursday, as all four teams in the tournament are in the top four in the America East in team ERA.
Each team boasts a starter in the top eight in conference ERA, with UMBC and Maine each putting two of their rotation pitchers up there.
The Retrievers have the most deadly one-two punch in the conference, with freshman Matt Chanin stepping into his first season and leading the league in ERA at 1.60. His teammate, junior Conrad Wozniak, is not too far behind at 1.69.
If the favorites take their games Thursday, a matchup between No. 1 Stony Brook and No. 2 UMBC will take place Friday night at LaLacheur Park in Lowell, Massachusetts, the home of the conference’s River Hawks as well as the Boston Red Sox’s Class A affiliate Lowell Spinners.
Everything will depend on how manager Bob Mumma decides to throw his guys in his effort to get UMBC to the NCAA’s for the first time since 2001 and their first-ever America East crown.
A matchup with Maine, as with UMBC, would not occur until at least Friday, but the Black Bears still boast two quality pitchers of their own. Another freshman splashing onto the America East stage, Justin Courtney, sits at a conference ERA of 2.13. His fellow Black Bear, junior Jacob Gosselin-Deschesnes, recorded a 3.00 ERA throughout conference play.
The Seawolves did not have any problems with these teams in the regular season, taking all three games from the Retrievers at Joe Nathan Field and both games in a weather-shortened series against Maine in Orono.
One team Stony Brook did have trouble with is the fourth and final team in the tournament, the Hartford Hawks. Pitching is not Hartford’s strong-suit. There is no Sean Newcomb on this team, but somehow, the Hawks gave the Seawolves fits.
They tagged Honahan with seven runs in just 4.1 innings in the first game of the set. In the series finale, they destroyed the bullpen, a developing strength of this team, for 10 runs in the final three innings to spoil the last game at Joe Nathan Field in 2015.
Stony Brook needs to figure what happened against the Hawks, and fast, if the Seawolves want to keep themselves out of an early hole, because they will play in the first game of the tournament on Thursday afternoon at 1:00 p.m.
For the Seawolves, it has never been the regular season that has been the issue. In fact, they won the conference this season by a walloping 5.5 games, the largest margin of victory in the conference since 1998 when the Delaware Blue Hens, now a member of the Colonial Athletic Association, went 22-2 in conference play and won it by nine games.
You have to go back to 1993 when the conference was known as the North Atlantic Conference for the last time a team currently in the league won it by that much, as Maine took the regular-season title by six games.
It has not been all about the pitching and defense that Senk likes, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It worked in the regular season, and if nothing changes between then and now, it will work in the postseason, and this little postseason curse will be nothing but a memory.
After that, Stony Brook will have a spot in the final 64 and try to reactivate some of that 2012 magic.