Graduate first baseman Chris Hamilton in a game against Sacred Heart on Feb. 26. Last season, Hamilton planned on entering the MLB Draft, but decided to stay at Stony Brook for another year.  SARA RUBERG/THE STATESMAN

Head coach Matt Senk believes the world never got a chance to see the Stony Brook baseball team at its best last season.

“I was really happy with the way we were pitching and playing defense,” Senk said in an interview with The Statesman. “That being said, we still weren’t where we wanted to be offensively. When we came home and had our five-game homestand, the bats started coming around. We had all three things clicking, getting ready to go into our first conference weekend.”

The season was canceled before conference play could begin. Stony Brook went 6-9 in the abbreviated 2020 campaign but won four of their final games. A year later, the Seawolves — still the most recent America East champions — are projected to finish first in the conference again by the preseason coaches’ poll.

Concerns about the team’s offense remain as Stony Brook batters combined to slash .200/.280/.276 in 2020, averaging just 3.1 runs per game.

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“I hope that we’re not going to get off to as slow a start,” Senk remarked. “The guys are a year older, a year maturer … I think all of those things will work to our advantage that our offense will be better and stronger.”

The biggest name in the Seawolves’ lineup remains graduate first baseman Chris Hamilton, who was named as one of the top 150 Division I hitters in 2020. Following the season’s abrupt end, Hamilton relocated to Florida to prepare for the MLB Draft as a likely selection. When the 2020 draft was cut from 40 rounds to five, he decided to return to Stony Brook with his extra year of eligibility.

“My plan to come back here for this fifth season was to win another championship,” Hamilton said in an interview with The Statesman. “It’s not really about myself going out and trying to improve my draft stock.”

Junior infielder Evan Giordano was arguably the Seawolves’ most effective hitter in 2020, beginning the year on a 10-game hitting streak and reaching base in all 15 games. After being limited with hamstring issues in 2019, he broke out in his sophomore season with a .368 average and two home runs.

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“I really just focused on my mental game,” Giordano said about the adjustments he made in an interview with The Statesman. “Obviously, taking a lot of reps in the cages and everything, but just working on being okay with failure. It’s a game of failure. Taking every at-bat as a new at-bat and every game as a new game.”

Hamilton, along with the other “super seniors,” bring a strong veteran presence to the locker room, which Senk and his players agree is important when it comes to competing for a title.

“A bunch of guys who came back have experienced a championship before,” Hamilton said. “The experience definitely helps a lot, and being able to pass along the different things that we’ve been through … will help us out in the long run.”

In addition to the returners, Stony Brook brings in a notable recruiting class listed by Collegiate Baseball as among the top in the nation. Of the incoming freshmen, Senk noted that pitchers Shane Helmstadt and Brendan Pattermann have stood out while infielder Evan Fox swung the bat well in the fall.

Needing to adapt to the pandemic, the America East split the conference into two divisions for 2021, with each team now playing home-and-home series against divisional opponents and a singular series against non-divisional opponents. Each individual series consists of four games, held over two consecutive days of doubleheaders.

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“Staying prepared, getting those reps in during the week in the cages with the team is, I’d say, our biggest goal here – to get ready,” Giordano said about the altered scheduling format.

Conference series being four games instead of three makes having a fourth pitcher all the more crucial, and Senk already has his rotation set. Senior Jared Milch, graduate Sam Turcotte and redshirt-senior Brian Herrmann make up the top three, with junior Nick DeGennaro in line as the fourth starter once conference play begins.

The current rotation gives DeGennaro time to build himself back up as a reliever during the non-conference schedule. The right-hander shone in 2020 with a 1.42 ERA over 12.2 innings pitched before his season ended after two starts due to an elbow injury. 

“Probably the thing you would think would be a little behind would be his breaking ball, but he’s shown a plus breaking ball and his velocity is right there,” Senk said.

DeGennaro’s scheduled Tommy John surgery in March was halted as New York hospitals suspended elective procedures due to COVID-19, leading him to treat the tear with platelet-rich plasma injections and rehab instead. His path back to the mound faced more obstacles after a vertebrae fracture in the fall and a shoulder impingement in the winter.

“Right now, I feel 100%,” DeGennaro said in an interview with The Statesman. “I’m ready to go.”

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Stony Brook’s schedule is strictly regional this season and foregoes the usual trip to southern schools that comprise the early non-conference slate. A previously scheduled series with the Michigan Wolverines, held at the New York Mets’ spring training site in Port St. Lucie, Florida, was called off.

“It’s nice to go out there against an ACC team and prove that, just because we’re from the north and they’re from the south, doesn’t mean they’re going to go out there and walk all over us,” DeGennaro said about last year’s trip to Clemson, where he held the Tigers to zero earned runs over 5.2 innings.

The Seawolves have their eye on ending the season the same way they did in 2019, and many of the faces in the dogpile at Binghamton remain on the roster, looking to be crowned one more time.

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