Graduate center fielder John LaRocca in a game against NJIT on May 9. LaRocca earned a spot on SportsCenter after stealing home against NJIT on May 29. ETHAN TAM/THE STATESMAN

With momentum on its side, the Stony Brook baseball team was denied a chance to seize an NCAA Tournament bid hosting the America East Baseball Championship at Joe Nathan Field from Thursday, May 27 to Sunday, May 30. Due to inclement weather conditions, the Seawolves’ championship round game was suspended and eventually canceled, sending Stony Brook home empty-handed as the NJIT Highlanders were controversially crowned champions by the America East as the only unbeaten team featured in the event.

After losing the tournament opener to the Maine Black Bears, Stony Brook beat the Albany Great Danes and avenged its first round loss to Maine to advance into the championship round against NJIT. The early loss proved costly when the America East decided that the championship round could not be finished due to rain.

The tournament started with a bang as junior pitcher Nick DeGennaro gave up a leadoff double to Maine freshman second baseman Quinn McDaniel, who came around to score and give Maine a 1-0 lead on an RBI single. Following the rough first inning, DeGennaro settled in and shut the Black Bears down for three straight innings.

However, the Maine lead grew to 3-0 after DeGennaro allowed leadoff homers in the fifth and sixth innings. The right-hander threw 122 pitches in eight innings of work, tying his career high with 11 strikeouts.

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“He left it all out there for us,” head coach Matt Senk said in a postgame interview with The Statesman. “The long ball really killed us today, obviously. I’m sure he would like to have those pitches back, but his effort was tremendous.”

DeGennaro was opposed by Maine junior pitcher Nicholas Sinacola, the America East Pitcher of the Year. Sinacola lived up to the hype as he kept the Seawolves off balance and carried a shutout into the seventh inning.

With one out in the bottom of the seventh, junior right fielder Cole Durkan kept his fourth home run of the year just inside the right field foul pole to make it a 3-1 game.

Stony Brook’s bats came alive after Sinacola was relieved in the eighth by redshirt-senior pitcher Matthew Pushard. Senior catcher John Tuccillo drove in graduate first baseman Chris Hamilton on a single to cut the deficit to one run. The rally was stalled, however, when Tuccillo got caught between second and third base on an ensuing single by junior designated hitter Brad Hipsley for the second out of the inning.

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“I wouldn’t even say it was an error,” Senk said. “He came around hard and when he put the brakes on, he slipped. It just seemed like that was how the game went.”

Junior pitcher Kyle Johnson entered the game for the Seawolves in the top of the ninth to keep it a one-run game. He was one strike away from doing just that, but Black Bears freshman right fielder Colin Plante hit his first collegiate home run down the left field line to extend Maine’s lead to 4-2 entering the bottom of the ninth.

A leadoff single from Durkan went to waste as Pushard recorded two strikeouts and a flyout, earning his third save of the season. The loss meant that each game moving forward became an elimination game for the Seawolves.

“We’re just going to keep having to play until the last out and find ways to win each game,” Senk said.

Stony Brook did exactly that on Friday with a walk-off 3-2 win against Albany to stay alive in the tournament.

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“I’m so happy for these guys that we can keep on playing in this tournament and see what happens,” Senk said after the thrilling win.

The low-scoring game was a pitcher’s duel between Stony Brook senior Jared Milch and Albany redshirt-freshman Cregg Scherrer, with five combined hits and no runs scored through five innings.

A leadoff single and a fielder’s choice gave the Great Danes’ two baserunners with no outs in the top of the sixth. A sac bunt allowed each runner to advance a base, and Great Danes redshirt-junior shortstop Brad Malm brought both runners home on a single through the left side to give Albany a 2-0 lead.

The Seawolves wasted a golden opportunity in the bottom of the eighth when sophomore shortstop Stanton Leuthner swung at the first pitch, popping out with two outs and the bases loaded. Milch came back out for the ninth and finished off the 120-pitch complete game with his seventh strikeout, tying his career high.

With three outs to keep their championship hopes alive, the Seawolves called upon sophomore outfielder Derek Yalon as a pinch hitter to lead off the bottom of the ninth. With two strikes, Yalon hit a line drive that bounced on the right field foul line and rolled into the corner for a double.

Freshman left fielder Evan Fox reached on a fielding error that allowed Yalon to move to third. Durkan drove Yalon in with an RBI groundout as Fox advanced to second. Sophomore second baseman Brett Paulsen followed by punching a single into shallow right, where a bobble allowed Fox to score easily from second and tie the game at 2-2.

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Graduate center fielder John LaRocca followed with a line drive up the middle, but Malm made a spectacular dive to knock the ball down and get the force out at second. Junior third baseman Evan Giordano stepped to the plate with two outs and in a 0-2 count, with LaRocca then stealing second to get into scoring position.

On the next pitch, Giordano sent a looping line drive that dropped in the outfield to score LaRocca and send the Seawolves to the next round.

“I was just trying to put it in play with two strikes, but ultimately, I didn’t want to go home yet,” Giordano said. “It was a great feeling seeing everyone come together at the last minute.”

When the Seawolves returned on Saturday, they made sure to come through much earlier and rode an offensive explosion to a 15-9 victory over Maine to eliminate the Black Bears and advance to the championship round.

After rain delayed the game’s start by two hours, Maine jumped out in front in the top of the second, only to be outdone by the Seawolves in the bottom half of the inning. Three consecutive doubles started the second inning, scoring two runs before two sacrifice hits brought in the final run from second to give Maine a 3-0 lead.

Stony Brook answered with a six-run two-out rally in the bottom of the second. With the bases loaded, Paulsen started the scoring by driving in two. The Seawolves batters would pile on with four more consecutive singles to take a 6-3 lead. The Seawolves added three more runs in the fourth inning and four more runs in the fifth inning to extend their advantage to 13-3.

After the rough second inning, redshirt senior pitcher Brian Herrmann bounced back with five shutout innings in which he allowed only two hits. Herrmann was one out away from getting out of a jam in the eighth inning, but the Seawolves made four consecutive fielding errors, allowing five runs to score.

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Herrmann was replaced by junior pitcher Ben Fero, who allowed one run before getting out of the inning. All six of the runs scored in the eighth were unearned, leaving Herrmann with three earned runs in 7.2 innings and nine strikeouts in his final collegiate start.

Stony Brook responded back in the bottom of the eighth with two more runs to make it 15-9. Fero returned for the ninth and ended the game with a double play to bring Stony Brook to its third consecutive championship game. The Seawolves recorded 16 hits, with Paulsen going 4-for-4 with three runs and three RBIs.

Needing to win two games against NJIT, the Seawolves started the first with an early lead after LaRocca stole home with two outs in the bottom of the first. The spectacular move was featured on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays. 

Three consecutive walks in the rainy bottom of the third loaded the bases with one out for Hamilton to try to break the game open, but graduate pitcher Jared Kacso was unhappy with the weather and prompted NJIT head coach Robbie McClellan to talk to the umpires.

After a few minutes of discussion, the umpires pulled the players off the field as the game entered a rain delay. Almost an hour later, it was announced that the game was suspended and would be played on Sunday.

Before the 10 a.m. resume time, the America East announced another rain delay and stated that an update would come at 10:15 a.m. Yet, the next announcement came at 12:42 p.m., canceling the remainder of the championship and crowning NJIT as the conference champions, since they had yet to lose in the tournament.

And just like that, Stony Brook’s season ended out of the team’s control for the second year in a row. While the Seawolves won the regular season conference championship and finished the year 31-18 overall, the America East’s controversial decision sealed the team’s fate.

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