Junior pitcher Nick DeGennaro pitching in the first game against Sacred Heart on Feb. 26. He relieved senior pitcher Jared Milch in the fourth inning. SARA RUBERG/THE STATESMAN

In the first-ever home February games in program history and first home opener since 1996, the Stony Brook baseball team won two of three games against the Sacred Heart Pioneers from Friday, Feb. 26 to Sunday, Feb. 28.  

Friday’s doubleheader was originally scheduled to take place on Saturday, but was bumped up a day to avoid the rainy weather forecast.

All the snow was removed from Joe Nathan Field and the Seawolves enjoyed the sunny, mid-40s weather in their season debut. “It’s unbelievable it’s the last weekend in February and we played in the weather we did today,” head coach Matt Senk said in a postgame press conference. “It couldn’t have been better.”

Game one of the doubleheader was a seven-inning game that didn’t see any scoring until the sixth.

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Senior pitcher Jared Milch got off to a hot start, retiring his first eight batters faced before running into trouble in the fourth inning. Milch walked the inning’s first two batters on 3-2 counts but bounced back and retired Sacred Heart’s next three batters to keep the game scoreless.

Pioneers senior outfielder Julian Pedrouzo walked on six pitches to lead off the fifth but was caught stealing by senior catcher John Tuccillo. Milch departed the game after allowing a hit to the next batter he faced, finishing with four strikeouts in 4.1 shutout innings.

In relief, junior pitcher Nick DeGennaro cleanly recorded the final two outs of the inning using only six pitches. After allowing a leadoff single to start the sixth, DeGennaro got two quick outs before junior infielder Justin Levito singled to left field and advanced to second on the throw. With two runners in scoring position and two outs, DeGennaro worked out of the jam with a groundout to shortstop.

Still scoreless, the Seawolves offense entered the bottom of the sixth with only one hit. With one out, first baseman Chris Hamilton reached on an error by SHU second baseman Danny Glendon. In his Stony Brook debut, graduate center fielder John LaRocca battled in an eight-pitch at bat before executing the hit-and-run perfectly with a ground ball down the third baseline. Hamilton scored from first and LaRocca made it safely to second for an RBI double.

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The Seawolves’ only run proved to be enough, as DeGennaro came back out for the seventh and closed out the 1-0 victory.

LaRocca played at NYIT before it announced a two-year suspension of its athletic program amid COVID-19. “I’m just happy to be back out here, especially after what happened at my old school,” LaRocca said in a postgame press conference.

LaRocca brought his bat to game two of the doubleheader and contributed two hits, two RBI, and two runs scored to Stony Brook’s 7-1 win. The offense exploded for 11 hits, including a solo homerun from junior infielder Evan Giordano, and scored at least one run in five consecutive innings.

While the offense came to life, their outstanding performance was overshadowed by graduate pitcher Sam Turcotte’s flirtation with perfection. 

Through the first seven innings, Turcotte struck out nine without allowing any baserunners. As dominant as he was, his defense helped him out a few times. In his collegiate debut, freshman Evan Fox made a diving catch in left field to rob a base hit from Pedrouzo to start the third inning. Fox is listed as an infielder and had not played in the outfield since he was 12 years old.

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With two outs in the fifth inning, sophomore second baseman Brett Paulsen made a leaping catch on a live drive up the middle to preserve Turcotte’s bid for a perfect game.

Turcotte’s stellar performance came to an abrupt end at the beginning of the eighth inning when Robert Farruggio was called on to pinch-hit and laced a double to left-center field. Following the double, Turcotte exited the game with nine strikeouts and one hit on 85 pitches, retiring the first 21 batters.

Senior pitcher Brian Morrisey entered the game in relief of Turcotte. Morrisey hit the first batter he faced, struck out the next and walked the third batter to load the bases. On a ground ball back to him, Morrisey took the easy out at first, allowing Turcotte’s runner to score. Morrisey retired the next four batters he faced and secured the victory.

“That was the longest I’ve ever had anything like that — any kind of perfect game, no-hitter, even shutout, honestly,” Turcotte said in a postgame press conference. “You’ve got to credit everybody. Anytime you put up seven runs on 11 hits, you’re going to win a lot of games.”

Game three was scheduled to start at 1 p.m. on Sunday but was moved to 10:30 a.m. in order to get the game in before rain started in the afternoon.

Senior pitcher Brian Herrmann took the mound for the Seawolves for the first time since April 13, 2019. In that outing against Binghamton, Herrmann suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. He was supposed to return to the rotation in the second half of the 2020 season, but the season was shut down in March due to COVID-19.

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After walking the first batter he faced, Herrmann found a groove and retired nine of the Pioneers’ next 10 batters. Herrmann cruised through the first five innings but ran into trouble in the sixth after allowing a one-out single to senior Isiah Daubon.

The Pioneers took advantage of an error by junior left fielder Johnny Decker on a fly ball near the warning track that put two runners in scoring position. A sacrifice groundout and an RBI single plated two runs for the Pioneers. Herrmann finished the inning and departed the game with four strikeouts and two unearned runs on 87 pitches.

“Before the game and even during it a little bit, I was a little emotional,” Herrmann said in a postgame press conference. “I’ve been waiting two years for this day. I’m just happy to be out here. I’m super happy I could come back and pitch for Stony Brook again.”

Junior right-hander Kyle Johnson came out of the bullpen for the Seawolves and tossed two and two-thirds scoreless innings before allowing a two-out single and two walks to load the bases in the top of the ninth. Sophomore pitcher Devin Sharkey replaced Johnson and got out of the inning with a flyout to center.

Stony Brook’s offense was dormant for most of the game but threatened a rally in the bottom of the ninth. Giordano walked to start the inning and Tuccillo followed with a single to left field.

The Pioneers replaced David Aufiero, who had pitched three shutout innings in relief, with Brendan Coffey. Giordano advanced to third on a flyout from sophomore Shane Paradine, leaving the Seawolves with runners on the corners and one out.

Coffey then struck out the next two batters on seven total pitches to close out the Pioneers’ 2-0 victory.

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“Brian today, and Kyle Johnson after him, and our pitchers all weekend, did a terrific job,” Senk said. “We really leaned on our pitching last year, prior to the season being shortened. The guys have picked up where they left off. So, the pitchers are doing exactly what we need them to do.”

The Seawolves failed to complete the sweep but exit their opening weekend with a 2-1 record.

“Any time you win a series, that’s a good thing,” Senk said. “We’ve got such a long way to go offensively, especially after today. Today we took a huge step back and we’re disappointed, but we’ll take that disappointment and put that energy into getting better.”

After another schedule change, Stony Brook will play two home 12 p.m. doubleheaders against the UMass Minutemen on Saturday, March 6 and Sunday, March 7.

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