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Sophomore pitcher Bret Clarke, pictured above, will play a significant role in the Stony Brook Baseball rotation in 2017 after being named America East Rookie of the Year as a freshman. NARA HWANG/STATESMAN FILE

What is Stony Brook Baseball’s greatest strength as it embarks on the 2017 season? If you ask sophomore pitcher and 2016 America East Rookie of the Year Bret Clarke, he would tell you it is revenge.

The theme of revenge stems from the team’s 6-3 loss to Binghamton in the America East Conference Championship last season. The Bearcats were voted the the preseason favorites in the America East Coaches Poll released last week. Stony Brook has 18 returning players from last season’s roster that lost in the America East Championship and were voted second in the coaches poll.

“Last year they beat us each of the four times we played them. Those four games I learned not necessarily to like them but respect them. They beat us four times,” Clarke said. “I feel this year we are gonna have a good mindset going into the year and really think about what happened last year and use that to our advantage.”

Since former starting pitchers Chad Lee and Tyler Honahan graduated, Clarke will be called upon to take the lead in the team’s starting rotation. Head coach Matt Senk has the utmost confidence that Clarke will be taking the ball on in the opening games of weekend series this season, which is generally reserved for a team’s top starting pitcher.   

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“If Bret is going to be our ace then we expect, every time out there, he’s going to give us a chance to win,” head coach Matt Senk said. “He gives us a chance to not only go out and win, but outperform the other team’s ace, because I’d imagine he’d be matched up against their number one. We feel that Bret is more than capable of doing that.”

Senk likes the depth of his roster this season and cites the team’s pitching as a primary example of that. “I could make a case for half a dozen players to be a starter,” he said.

Junior left-handed pitcher Kevin Kernan, who spot started in the America East Conference Semifinals, allowed two runs across six innings to help eliminate top-seeded Hartford. Sophomore pitcher Joe Baran was mentioned as someone who has improved greatly in the offseason and was possibly in the mix for the rotation to begin the season.

Stony Brook’s incoming freshman class was listed as one of the 16 “under the radar recruiting classes” of 2016, according to Baseball America. The Seawolves have brought several young pitchers aboard who have had success starting. Sam Turcotte, or “Big Turk” as his high school teammates and coaches would call him, is a 6-foot-5-inch right-handed pitcher from Ontario and the 6-foot-4-inch freshman Brian Herrmann will also battle for positions in the three-man starting rotation.

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During Stony Brook’s first weekend of action, junior pitchers Nick Montefusco and Aaron Pinto each started a game, but Senk has not confirmed whether the rotation will remain as such.

While the Seawolves’ strong freshman class supplied the team with several future starting pitchers, infielder Michael Wilson highlights perhaps the strongest class in program history. Wilson was drafted in the 12th round of the MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox but chose to commit to Stony Brook instead. Only nine of Stony Brook’s 25 alumni who have been selected in the MLB Draft have been drafted earlier than him.

“Unless something dramatically happens that he doesn’t continue to improve, professional baseball is [always] going to be there,” Senk said. “He has a tremendous skillset. I think he can play any of the three outfield positions, but right now our biggest void is at second base. I’m not saying that is where he will be [come the start of the season] but it is certainly an option for us.”

His commitment to Stony Brook makes him the highest drafted Stony Brook commit to ever be successfully recruited out of high school, according to Senk. While there is a hole at second base since Jack Parenty graduated, Senk did not say if Wilson would play second base. Senk does have a history of taking the advantage of the versatility of his players, so not having a set position is entirely possible. Regardless of position, he is expected to make an immediate impact to start the season. Wilson was unable to be spoken to, per program policy.

The freshman class only bolsters a roster that is full of hungry and vengeful upperclassmen. Senior Toby Handley has returned for his senior season despite being drafted by the Houston Astros in last season’s MLB Draft. Handley, who is expected to lead off for his third consecutive season, has said he has added muscle to become a better all around ball player.

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“Last year we put our best effort forward but things just weren’t clicking,” Handley said. This year it just feels like more things are being put together and everybody is getting along much better.”

Handley returns for his senior season alongside senior outfielder Casey Baker and shortstop Jeremy Giles as members of the team who lost to Binghamton both last season and in 2014 season as freshmen.

“I don’t know that we fully played up to our potential,” Senk said of his team. “We’re anxious to go back out there this year and play to our capabilities and that will put us in a good position.”

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