Junior pitcher Nick DeGennaro in a game against Sacred Heart on Feb. 26. DeGennaro pitched in a game against UMass Lowell and struck out a career-high 10 batters in seven innings. SARA RUBERG/THE STATESMAN

As dominant as Stony Brook’s baseball team has been in America East play, its bullpen might determine how far the Seawolves go in the postseason.

Driven by great starting pitching and an offensive surge, Stony Brook bounced back from an early 4-7 nonconference record by winning its first ten games against America East opponents, its best start to conference play in program history.   

The Seawolves struggled offensively to start the season, batting .232 and averaging about 3.5 runs per game through the first 11 games of the season. Since starting conference play, Stony Brook is batting .274 and averaging 7.9 runs per game.

One of the keys to the offensive turnaround has been the play of junior third baseman Evan Giordano. Despite a slow start to the season that saw him batting .200 after the first six games, Giordano has been Stony Brook’s most consistent offensive player.

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Giordano has recorded at least one hit in 16 of his last 17 games, batting an incredible .448 in that stretch. He leads the team in runs scored and RBIs, and is tied for first in home runs with graduate center fielder John LaRocca.

Stony Brook’s offense started to turn around once Giordano was moved into the leadoff spot against the Villanova Wildcats on March 21. The Seawolves lost the game and Giordano only went 1-5, but they started their America East run the following week.

“Ever since associate head coach Jim Martin suggested a change in the lineup to get the offense jump started, perhaps no one has benefited from the shakeup more than Evan Giordano in the leadoff spot,” head coach Matt Senk said in a press release. “Overall, Evan has been an integral part to the team’s early success in conference play.”

The offensive breakthrough has coincided with a run of strong starting pitching. All four starters pitched at least seven innings in the four-game series against Hartford on the weekend of April 2. Graduate pitcher Sam Turcotte continued the streak in the first game of last weekend’s series against UMass Lowell.

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Senior pitchers Jared Milch and Brian Herrmann started the next two games and were each removed early for precautionary reasons, ending the streak. In the final game of the series, junior Nick DeGennaro struck out a career-high 10 batters in seven innings.

The starting rotation has recorded 15 quality starts in 23 games, nine of which were against conference opponents.

With all that’s going right for the Seawolves, the bullpen’s struggles can’t be ignored.

The first sign of trouble came when the bullpen blew a five-run lead in the last three innings against the Fordham Rams on March 9. “The bullpen is a work in progress,” Senk told The Statesman after the loss.

A month later, the bullpen showed that they still have plenty to prove. The early departures of Milch and Herrmann placed an unusually large workload on the bullpen’s shoulders against UMass Lowell.

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In the second game of the series, Stony Brook’s most effective relievers underperformed in important moments. In his fifth appearance, sophomore Devin Sharkey allowed his first runs of the season on a two-run home run in the eighth inning.

Following the home run, junior Kyle Johnson was tasked with preserving Stony Brook’s 4-3 lead. The game-tying home run he allowed in the bottom of the ninth proved to be harmless as the offense rallied to take the lead in the tenth inning.

Although the Seawolves have made more than a few late rallies to win games this season, they cannot constantly rely on the offense to atone for the bullpen’s shortcomings.

After taking a 3-2 lead in the top of the fifth inning of the third game, the Seawolves soon found themselves trailing 4-3. Senior Brian Morrisey entered the game in the bottom of the fifth with one out and two runners on base. Before getting out of the inning, Morrisey gave up the lead on a two-RBI double.

The offense had two chances to tie or take the lead, but couldn’t muster any more late-game magic.

The bullpen has blown a total of four leads this season; the Seawolves lost two of those games.  

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Morrisey, Johnson and Sharkey account for about two thirds of the innings pitched by Stony Brook relievers this season. Morrisey has struggled throughout the year, recording an 8.00 ERA while allowing a .333 batting average.

Despite lackluster outings against UMass Lowell, Sharkey boasts a 2.45 ERA and .200 batting average against, while those numbers are 3.55 and .188, respectively, for Johnson.

Overall, Stony Brook relievers have a 5.73 ERA and 1.64 WHIP while allowing a .247 batting average. The starting pitchers, on the other hand, have a 2.72 ERA and 1.18 WHIP while opponents are batting .225 against them.

With Milch’s status uncertain due to injury, the Seawolves will likely have to rely more heavily on their bullpen in the coming games.

Even if all four starters remain healthy for the rest of the year, the Seawolves will need more consistency from their relievers if they want to make a run at an America East title. 

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