Nick DeGennaro, the ace of the Stony Brook baseball team, is accustomed to conquering life’s challenges.
The right-handed pitcher, now a senior, is no stranger to being frustrated by decisions that are beyond his control. The America East’s ruling to ban Stony Brook from championship contention is just another roadblock to add to the challenges of the last three years.
“It’s a poor decision,” DeGennaro said in an interview with The Statesman. “It’s another slap in the face. That’s what happened last year. There was COVID sophomore year. We didn’t get the chance to properly compete in the championship last year. And then they take it away from us this year. So that’s really tough.”
Last May, the America East canceled the championship game against NJIT because of inclement weather. The year prior, COVID-19 cut Stony Brook’s season short after just 15 games. DeGennaro’s time at Stony Brook hasn’t been the easiest.
“We’re taking it a day at a time and a game at a time,” he said. “We’re looking for an at-large bid.”
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound right-handed starter unleashed 77.1 innings of sheer dominance in 2021. In 12 starts, DeGennaro went 8-3, tied for the most wins by a returning pitcher in the America East during the regular season. He was also second in the league in strikeouts (92), only behind Maine right-handed pitcher Nick Sinacola (139). Sinacola was drafted in the seventh round of the 2021 MLB Draft.
At his peak, DeGennaro threw two complete games, one of which was Stony Brook’s first nine-inning complete game since Brian Herrmann did so in 2018.
The dominance of DeGennaro’s past season has given him a number of titles to choose from, ‘ace’ being just one of them. He was also a First-Team All-America East player in 2021, an America East All-Championship team member and now a Second-Team Preseason All-American going into the 2022 season.
“He’s a very, very different kid than he was when he was 18,” head coach Matt Senk said. “He’s a man — a young man — but he’s a man who embraces the position he’s put himself in not only as our number one, but also as somebody that’s highly thought of in the conference and throughout the country with some of that All-American recognition.”
DeGennaro may be the most well-equipped player on the roster to deal with the disappointment of the current situation. Being a senior, he has the most experience of the Stony Brook pitchers. He currently leads the entire pitching staff in career innings (127.2) and strikeouts (140). But putting numbers aside, DeGennaro has also experienced his fair share of unprecedented obstacles in the past.
From an early age, DeGenarro’s love for the game and passion to compete was strong. Surprisingly enough, pitching was not always his focus as a young athlete. DeGenarro was better with the bat than he was on the mound in his early days. He eventually honed his skills as a pitcher during his adolescence.
“When I was around 11 or 12, I transitioned into pitching because I was one of the only guys who could throw strikes,” DeGennaro said. “Then, a few years down the road, I developed pretty good off-speed [pitches] and I developed some velocity. Things kind of took off and hitting was more of a secondary option, I didn’t really worry about it. I put all my focus into pitching.”
DeGennaro’s competitive drive really started to kick in during his high school years. His home town of Toms River consists of three separate high schools, each with its own baseball team. Playing for Toms River East, the lesser of the three schools when it comes to athletic prowess, he quickly learned to deal with bigger and tougher opponents while on the mound.
“I would say that Toms River North and South are more prominent when it comes to baseball,” DeGennaro said. “So I developed somewhat of an underdog kind of mentality, going out there and not caring if they’re the better team on paper. Just going out there and saying, ‘When I’m on the mound, we’re the better team.’ You just learn to love to compete.”
Carrying that underdog mentality to a Division I Stony Brook team only boosted DeGennaro’s competitive drive. Yet, his freshman year as a Seawolf proved to be a challenge. His ERA swelled to 8.36 through 37.2 innings pitched in 2019. He started five games out of 15 total appearances, producing a 1-4 overall record.
DeGennaro was determined to bounce back in his second year. He impressed by allowing zero earned runs against Clemson, but had to leave that start with an injury in the sixth inning, and later learned that he would need Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in his elbow. Originally optimistic for a full recovery, DeGennaro’s prospects took a turn for the worse when hospitals prohibited non-essential surgeries as the first wave of COVID-19 hit the United States.
“The day before my surgery, all the hospitals shut down from COVID,” DeGennaro said. “So at that point, I was really upset. I thought I would miss another year and thought, ‘There goes my career.’”
After discussing the situation with his coaches, DeGennaro decided to get a second opinion on his elbow injury. To his surprise, his new doctor told him that his ligament had only experienced a minor tear, and it was possible for DeGennaro to seek an alternative PRP (platelet-rich plasma) treatment. Within months, he was fully healed.
The rest is history.
“It’s great when your pitcher goes out and competes like he does,” shortstop Stanton Leuthner said. “It adds even more to the competition for our whole team, and we have to score for him because we know that he’s going out and giving it his all. We always have to do the same for him.”
If there’s one player to lead this team to an at-large berth in 2022, it’s DeGennaro. His comeback performance in 2021 has not only made him the ace of the rotation, but has also made him an unspoken leader of Stony Brook baseball as a whole.
“His presence just fills the room with energy,” utility player Evan Fox said about DeGennaro’s competitiveness. “I love it. I know the whole team loves it, and it’s just a great feeling to know you’ve got somebody out there that’s just going to war for you and the team.”
The America East cannot stop Stony Brook from winning the regular season title for a third season in a row or earn the longshot at-large bid. It is the force which drives DeGennaro and the Seawolves.
“If we compete the way I know we can, it doesn’t matter where we’re playing or who we’re playing,” DeGennaro said. “We can beat anyone in the country, and if that’s the case, then we can compete for an at-large bid.”