After facing multiple schedule changes, Stony Brook’s baseball team was swept in a two-game series against the Villanova Wildcats on Saturday, March 20 and Sunday, March 21.
Stony Brook’s scheduled Wednesday game against the Fordham Rams and four-game weekend series against the Maine Black Bears were both canceled due to COVID-19 protocols. The Seawolves learned on Friday that their new weekend opponent would be Villanova, giving them only one day to prepare for the Wildcats.
“It’s not easy, but then again, nothing going on in COVID is easy,” head coach Matt Senk said in an interview with The Statesman. “When all is said and done, the fact that we’re able to play even with these changes, it’s still a pandemic, and we’re making the most of it.”
The Seawolves took Joe Nathan Field at 2 p.m. on Saturday and found themselves locked in a pitcher’s duel. Graduate pitcher Sam Turcotte got off to a hot start for the Seawolves, striking out five batters in the first four innings. His defense gave him some help, as the infield turned a double play to end the second inning and senior catcher John Tuccillo caught two runners stealing.
Turcotte took a shutout into the sixth inning, where he ran into trouble. With no outs and runners on the corners, second baseman Cameron Hassert laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to put the Wildcats on the scoreboard. First baseman Ryan Toohers hit an RBI triple to give the Wildcats a 2-0 lead as graduate center fielder John LaRocca crashed into the center field wall and could not make the catch.
Turcotte finished the game with six strikeouts and two earned runs in six innings. Junior pitcher Kyle Johnson replaced Turcotte in the seventh and continued his exceptional start to the season with three scoreless innings. Johnson allowed a leadoff triple in the eighth but let out a scream and pounded his chest after striking out shortstop Pat O’Neill in an eight pitch at-bat to escape the jam.
“Kyle Johnson has really been terrific,” Senk said. “He’s a hard worker, a great teammate, a high-energy guy. He competes every time he’s out there, and there’s been a lot of positive results, because of all of those things.”
The Seawolves’ offense was shut out for six innings by Long Island native Tyler Arella, but broke through when he was replaced in the seventh. Junior third baseman Evan Giordano started a two-out rally with his third hit of the day and advanced to second on a wild pitch. He scored on a single to left field by Tuccillo, making it a 2-1 game.
The Seawolves had a chance to tie or take the lead in each of the last two innings, but couldn’t capitalize with runners on the corners in the eighth or bases loaded in the ninth. Danny Wilkinson closed out the game for Villanova and earned his first save of the season.
“Evan [Giordano] right now has been the bright spot for our offense,” Senk said. “Obviously, we need him to keep it going and we need a couple of guys to start picking it up.”
Villanova hosted Sunday’s game and took control early. The Wildcats took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when center fielder Chris Rotondo hit a leadoff triple to center field and scored on a ground out.
The Seawolves answered in the top of the third when Giordano singled to left field to score junior outfielder Cole Durkan, who doubled to start the inning. Giordano scored later in the inning when Tuccillo lined a single to right field, giving the Seawolves a 2-1 lead.
The lead was short-lived, however, as the Wildcats took it back in the bottom of the third. Rotondo plated a run on a one out single to center field to tie the game. With two outs, the Wildcats put together a triple, a single and a double to score another two runs and take a 4-2 lead.
Junior pitcher Nick DeGennaro exited the game after allowing four runs in two and two-thirds innings, and was replaced by senior pitcher Brian Herrmann. Herrmann managed to get out of the inning and keep the game close, but Villanova maintained the lead for the rest of the game.
Herrmann held the score at 4-2 until Hassert hit a two-RBI single to left in the sixth inning. Freshman pitcher Shane Helmstadt replaced Herrmann in the seventh and allowed another two runs on a single to left by Sam Margulis, extending Villanova’s lead to 8-2.
In the top of the eighth, the Seawolves managed a run when sophomore shortstop Brett Paulsen plated LaRocca on a single to center field. Their late effort wasn’t enough and the Wildcats won game two 8-3, completing the sweep.
The Seawolves combined for 16 hits and 12 walks in the two games, but left 23 runners on base and only scored four runs.
“We’ve really struggled with some timely hitting and that’s something that really is, in my opinion, more mental than physical,” Senk said. “We’ve just got to keep fighting through it.”
Graduate first baseman Chris Hamilton and sophomore catcher Shane Paradine missed both games with injuries. They probably could have played if necessary, but it did not make sense for Senk to rush them back for a non-conference opponent.
“We need to get them as close to 100% healthy when we start with conference [play] next weekend,” he said.
Now at 4-7, the Seawolves will travel to Albany to play a four-game series against the Great Danes — their first America East opponent of the season — on Saturday, March 27 and Sunday, March 28.