A veteran core, supplemented by a deep class of freshmen is what composes the 2019 Stony Brook baseball team. Seeking a berth in their fifth America East Conference Championship over the past six seasons, the Seawolves will rely on a host of familiar faces.
Seven starters bringing a combined 1,216 at-bats from last season across the lineup will return. Junior shortstop Nick Grande will lead the way for the team, coming off an All-American campaign last season and drawing national attention as the 15th-ranked shortstop in the nation.
The other positions for Stony Brook are up to change, however, as the team will have to deal with the loss of senior outfielder Cristian Montes for the season. Montes discovered an injury over the summer that was found during an MRI scan and is drastic enough for surgery, costing him the upcoming season.
“Montes was penciled in to be our centerfielder, so that’s created a couple issues,” head coach Matt Senk said. “[Senior outfielder] Dylan Resk has had some experience over his four years playing quite a bit of outfield, and then [senior infielder] Brandon Alamo played some outfield, some first base last year. Brandon will, at least, start in the outfield and we’ll see what happens from there.”
Senk also said that if they had to make any additional changes, junior first baseman Chris Hamilton could shift over to one of the corner outfield spots, but he prioritized keeping Hamilton at his natural position where he plays superior defense. The coach noted that senior infielder Brandon Janofsky has the athleticism to swing between roles if the team needs him to.
Junior outfielder Michael Wilson will shift from right field to center in the meantime, covering the absence of Montes. Offensively, Wilson excelled at driving runners home and led the team with 20 doubles and 40 runs batted in last season. He was primarily used as a designated hitter in his freshman season before spending the majority of his innings in right last season and has been working to quickly improve his defense.
“Mostly it was just a learning process,” Wilson said of his experience last year. “[I] took a lot of reps out there during practice, being able to read the ball off the bat is a big thing which I learned last year. Just catching the ball really, that’s a big step for me.”
The only other position up for grabs is third base, where Senk has the incumbent senior infielder Michael Russell. Russell backed up former third baseman Bobby Honeyman last season, batting .282 with six doubles and sending 11 runners home in 26 games played. He could see competition from freshman infielder Evan Giordano, who the head coach said was also in the mix in the early going.
Giordano highlights a list of several freshmen who Senk pointed out as early candidates to contribute right away. Nick Degennaro and Ben Fero are right-handed options that Senk said had strong falls, and Liam Pulsipher is one of the few lefties being carried on the roster, so Senk is hoping for him to hit the ground running.
“I think they all have the potential to give us some quality innings,” Senk said.
Another pitcher that stood out was junior Adam Erickson, a transfer from Sacramento City College in California. Erickson was the Panthers’ closer and is the leading candidate to fill that role for the Seawolves after former pitcher Aaron Pinto graduated last year.
“He’s not your prototypical closer, though,” Senk said. “He’s not a low-90’s guy, coming out throwing all kinds of gas. He pounds the strike zone with a three to four pitch mix, and he really competes. He’s certainly somebody that we could have in that position and then kind of take it from there.”
Looking ahead toward the potential postseason, Stony Brook is incentivizing finishing in either the first or second seed. The team is projected to reach that mark, as they are ranked second in the America East preseason poll; but if the Seawolves match that projection, then that would earn them a first-round bye in the tournament. The league’s previous two champions, Hartford and UMBC, both entered the tournament with a bye.
For now, Stony Brook will focus on what it can accomplish in the opening weekend. The team opens the new season Friday, Feb. 15 on the road in Miami, playing Florida International. The southern trip will be the first of three road series the team will play to open its schedule.
“I’d just like for us from day one to go out and force teams to beat us,” Senk said. “More times than not teams lose games than they actually go out and win games, so go out and take care of the baseball, grind out at-bats, give them 27 outs, limit the errors, all of these are things that we’re capable of doing. Frankly, if we do that consistently [it] will give us the best chance of winning not only this weekend but every weekend and throughout the season.”
Player to watch: Michael Wilson
Wilson had an incredibly successful 2018 season, and it wasn’t just due to his adjustment to playing the outfield. The outfielder’s hefty bat took a big leap last year, slugging .498 and leading the team with 20 doubles and 40 runs batted in. He was a big part of the Seawolves run in the AE Tournament, and he was one of three Seawolves named to the All-Tournament team.
“Just trying to be more patient,” Wilson said of the improvements he made last season. “Find the pitch I’m looking for, hit the ball hard every time I’m at the plate. This year, I’m trying to cut down my strikeouts, I had a lot of those last year, work more walks, get on base for the team.”
The senior was selected in the 15th round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft coming out of high school and is poised to be a draft candidate again by picking up from the strong performance last season.