The 2017 America East Baseball Tournament is on the horizon, but this time, the No. 3-seeded Stony Brook may have its most dangerous lineup since 2012, when the Seawolves won the title and advanced to the College World Series. The team will take on No. 6-seeded Hartford Wednesday afternoon at LeLacheur Park in Lowell, Massachusetts.
The Seawolves ended the Hawks’ season in 2016 when, now senior shortstop Jeremy Giles hit a walk-off single in the America East Tournament Semifinals. Hartford looks to avenge the loss, but Stony Brook stands ready.
“We are carrying on the same chip on the same shoulder because they sweeped us a couple of weeks ago at their place,” head coach Matt Senk said. “Certainly as much as they do for beating them last year.”
The Seawolves enter the tournament with an offense that has 31 combined home runs this season, compared to a combined 22 from 2015-2016. The last time the team had over 30 home runs in a single season was in 2012, when the Seawolves became only the second No. 4 seed to make it to the College World Series.
“The person who has made the biggest difference there has been [sophomore right fielder] Dylan Resk,” Senk said. “He has been the main guy hitting the ball out of the ball park for us. If he can keep doing that, we can put some runs up on the board quickly.”
Resk leads the team and America East with 12 home runs this season. He is the first Seawolf with 12 home runs in a season since Willie Carmona in 2012. Resk and his home run total provides a serious power threat in the middle of Stony Brook’s lineup that it has not had for years.
But senior centerfielder Toby Handley has been the catalyst of the Seawolves’ improved offense all season. Handley was named America East Player of the Year on Tuesday, breaking personal career-highs and program records across the board this season.
“This offseason, I knew I had to get my weight up and my strength up so I could carry throughout the whole season,” Handley said in February. “Speed I am always focusing on, but when I’m getting stronger, I am also getting faster.”
The returning senior who declined to sign with the Houston Astros who selected him in the 2016 MLB Draft returned to bat .346 with five home runs with 34 RBI in addition to leading the America East in stolen bases, walks and triples.
The award comes in the wake of a very trying time for Stony Brook. Sophomore starting pitcher Bret Clarke underwent a season-ending surgery on Monday, thinning out the team’s depth at starting pitcher. The team’s young pitching staff, comprised of freshman Brian Herrmann, freshman Greg Marino and junior Kevin Kernan, only has one America East Tournament start under its belt.
Herrmann was the most consistent starting pitcher for Stony Brook this season, posting a 4-3 record with a 3.54 ERA. Senk praised Herrmann for improving his breaking pitch as the season has gone on. The coaching staff has talked about how calm and collected he is on the mound. Senk said he was “mature beyond his years,” in reference to Herrmann’s laid back but fearless nature on the mound.
Senk also reiterated his confidence in Kernan, the only healthy starting pitcher on the team’s roster with experience in the America East Tournament. Kernan made a spot start in the America East Tournament Semifinals last year against Hartford, allowing just two runs in the pivotal game that advanced the Seawolves to the America East championship game. He also had a one-hitter going into the ninth inning of the team’s game against UMBC on Saturday.
“His performance against UMBC on Saturday was nothing short of outstanding,” Senk said. “He did it last year in the tournament. If we can get a good performance out of him again, it would put us in better position to win the [championship].”
Senk knows that the team has plenty of work to do in order to beat Hartford and the other America East schools before worrying about the championship game. Hartford will be led by sophomore centerfielder Ashton Bardzell, who is perhaps Handley’s main America East Player Of the Year competition. Bardzell is batting .352 with nine home runs and 43 RBI in 2017.
However, exacting revenge against Binghamton and winning a championship remains the primary goal. The Bearcats beat the Seawolves 6-3 in the America East Tournament last year. This season, Binghamton added Wake Forest transfer sophomore outfielder transfer Justin Yurchak to the roster. He leads the team with a .333 batting average and ended the season with a 30-11 record compared to 25 losses in 2016. Binghamton also swept No.19-ranked Virginia Tech in a four-game series in Virginia.
“We certainly know that more than likely we are going to face them, and we are looking forward to that rematch this time around,” Senk said.
Herrmann will start the opening game of the tournament against Hartford which begins at 2:30 p.m.