Junior right fielder Cole Durkan and freshman left fielder Evan Fox in a game against UMBC on April 18. Durkan hit his second homer of the season in a game against NJIT. ETHAN TAM/THE STATESMAN

For the first time this season, Stony Brook’s baseball team lost a series against an America East opponent. The Seawolves were swept at home and split a road doubleheader against the NJIT Highlanders on Saturday, April 24 and Sunday, April 25. 

The series loss provides a reality check for Stony Brook, especially considering that the Highlanders entered the series with a 7-13 conference record. More than anything, the series showed that the only thing standing in the Seawolves’ way is themselves.

Each loss was decided by one run, with Seawolves allowing a combined six unearned runs in the first two games. Stony Brook did not commit an error in the final loss, but they blew a six-run lead, walked and hit a batter in the bottom of the ninth and lost on a wild pitch.

“When you play enough tight games, the law of averages sometimes catches up with you and you really have no margin of error,” head coach Matt Senk said after the first doubleheader.

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NJIT’s home field, Jim Hynes Stadium at Division III Kean University, was occupied on Saturday, so the first two games of the series were played at Joe Nathan Field with the Seawolves batting first.

Game one, a 6-5 Stony Brook loss, started with a scoreless first inning. The Seawolves put up four runs in the second, starting when freshman left fielder Evan Fox scored from second on a single to left field by sophomore shortstop Stanton Leuthner. With two outs and runners on second and third, junior third baseman Evan Giordano lined a two-RBI single to left field to extend Stony Brook’s lead to 3-0. Giordano advanced to second on the throw home and scored on another single to left by graduate first baseman Chris Hamilton.

The Highlanders answered in the bottom of the second with five unearned runs after an error by Hamilton prolonged the inning. With two outs, sophomore outfielder Albert Choi blasted a three-run home run to left center field, the first of four straight hits. The Highlanders took a 5-4 lead on a two-RBI double down the left field line by sophomore infielder Daniel Helfgott.

Graduate pitcher Sam Turcotte lost his control in the third inning and constantly looked at his fingers in between pitches. A blister forced him to exit the game after two and a third innings, ending his streak of three straight seven-inning complete games.

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Sophomore pitcher Josh O’Neill replaced Turcotte and allowed no runs until the sixth inning, when junior infielder Jared Donnelly hit a leadoff home run to right field to extend the Highlanders’ lead to 6-4.

Junior right fielder Cole Durkan hit a solo shot over the right field wall for his second home run of the season to lead off the top of the seventh. Down by one run with no outs and the top of the order coming to the plate, the Seawolves seemed poised to extend the game.

Giordano launched what looked like the game-tying home run, but it hooked just foul. Giordano wound up popping out, and Stony Brook’s order went down 1-2-3 to end their second conference loss of the season.

The Seawolves looked to bounce back in the second game of the doubleheader, but a late error contributed to another close loss, this one by a score of 3-2.

The Highlanders started the scoring with two outs in the fourth on an RBI single to right field by sophomore outfielder Kevin Putsky. Graduate outfielder Kevin Blum bunted to the left of the mound and just beat out an infield single to score another run and give NJIT a 2-0 lead.

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The Seawolves evened the score in the sixth on a two-out two-RBI single to shallow right field by sophomore second baseman Brett Paulsen. Putsky almost made a diving catch on the soft line drive, but the ball popped out of his glove, allowing the runs to score.

Senior pitcher Jared Milch got two quick outs to start the bottom of the seventh, but Choi lined a single to center that went under the glove of graduate center fielder John LaRocca. The ball rolled a long way to the fence and Choi hustled all the way around the bases to give NJIT a 3-2 lead on a single and three-base error by LaRocca.

Milch was replaced in the eighth by junior pitcher Ben Fero, who pitched a 1-2-3 inning in his first appearance of the season. 

“That was great to see Ben do that,” Senk said in a postgame press conference. “We certainly could use more of that from Ben to shore up our bullpen.”

Down one in the top of the ninth, Durkan lined a leadoff single to right field to bring the team’s best hitter in Giordano to the plate. In a 1-1 count, Giordano laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Durkan to second. 

“That was something I went back and forth with, whether to do that with Giordano in that situation,” Senk said.

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Senk felt confident in his next two hitters, Hamilton and senior catcher John Tuccillo, but neither of them could tie the game and the Seawolves dropped their second in a row. Both games were decided by one run, with errors proving costly in each game. 

“The conversation I just had with the team is: We’ve won our share of close games,” Senk said. “We’ve won those close games because we executed, we took care of the baseball and had timely hitting. We made more mistakes today than we needed to.”

The Seawolves got off on the right foot in game one of Sunday’s doubleheader with a clean 5-2 win.

Senior pitcher Brian Herrmann exited the game after striking out four and allowing two earned runs in six innings. Junior pitcher Kyle Johnson entered the game in the bottom of the seventh and struck out the final batter to secure his third save of the season.

Stony Brook wasted no time and took a 1-0 lead on an RBI double to right center by sophomore catcher Shane Paradine. Tuccillo followed with a blast to left field for his third home run of the season to extend the Seawolves’ lead to 3-0.

The Highlanders chipped away at the lead with two solo home runs, one in the second by sophomore catcher Luke Longo and one in the fifth by Donnelly to make it a 3-2 game.

Stony Brook scored some insurance runs in the top of the seventh, as Giordano launched his sixth homer of the season to left center to start the inning. Hamilton followed with a triple to right center and scored on a sacrifice fly by Paradine to secure the win entering the bottom of the seventh.

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Looking to split the series in the final game of the weekend, the Seawolves again jumped in front early but lost 9-8 on a walk-off wild pitch.

In the five-run second inning, Giordano put the Seawolves up 3-0 on a two-out bases-clearing double to left field. Hamilton extended the lead with an opposite field two-run homerun, his third of the year. Stony Brook added a run in the third when junior right fielder Derek Yalon beat out an infield single with two outs to bring LaRocca across the plate for a 6-0 lead.

After Choi walked in the bottom of the third, junior infielder Julio Marcano put the Highlanders on the board with a two-run home run to left center. The Seawolves answered in the top of the fourth, as Hamilton hit a leadoff double to right center and scored on a double to left center by Tuccillo to make it a 7-2 game.

While the Seawolves had control, the Highlanders refused to quit. With two outs and two runners on base, Donnelly singled up the middle to bring one run across the plate. Choi followed with a double to deep center field to score two more and cut Stony Brook’s lead to 7-5.

Junior pitcher Nick DeGennaro exited after five innings, breaking a streak of four games with at least six innings pitched. Johnson made his second appearance of the day as he relieved DeGennaro and allowed back-to-back homeruns to Choi and Marcano to tie the game at 7-7 after six innings.

Paradine broke the tie in the eighth by driving in Leuthner on his fourth single of the game, but the lead didn’t last long.

After a shutout inning in relief of Johnson in the seventh, Fero returned for the eighth and allowed a first-pitch home run to Donnelly — his third of the series — to tie the game at 8-8. The Seawolves could not take the lead in the top of the ninth, and Fero came back out to try to send the game into extra innings.

Fero hit the first batter in the inning before allowing a one-out single to the last batter he would face. Graduate pitcher Adam Erickson entered the game and walked Putsky on four pitches to load the bases.

Erickson bounced back with a strikeout and needed to get a red-hot Donnelly out to extend the game. In a 1-1 count, Donnelly chased a curveball low and inside, but it bounced away from Tuccillo allowing the winning run to score from third base.

Despite the disappointing series, the Seawolves remain in first place with a 16-4 record against America East opponents.

The Seawolves will look to bounce back in a four-game series against the Binghamton Bearcats on Saturday, May 1 and Sunday, May 2 at Joe Nathan Field.

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