The Stony Brook baseball team ended its 2021 season on a bittersweet note.
The Seawolves won the America East regular season championship with a record 25 conference victories and a 31-18 overall record. However, they were left with a foul taste in their mouths when the America East canceled the championship round owing to bad weather.
On the doorstep of breaking the game open, Stony Brook’s final matchup against NJIT only made it through three innings before getting stalled by rain and eventually canceled completely. The America East controversially awarded NJIT the championship because Stony Brook had lost earlier in the bracket, even though the Seawolves won the regular season title.
Before even stepping foot on the diamond in 2022, Stony Brook was hit with another widely criticized decision by the America East. Because Stony Brook announced its move to the Colonial Athletic Association after this season, the America East banned the school from postseason contention in all sports.
“It’s a very disappointing decision by America East,” head coach Matt Senk said to The Statesman. “For my program, in particular, it is really more than unfortunate. We have guys that have been with us for three or four years. In the previous three years, [first] we had COVID. Last year, we had the tournament not being able to be finished due to weather. Now, we have this. So it’s really unfortunate, especially since things are out of their hands and since they’ve worked so hard.”
After a shortened 2020 season and an incomplete 2021 season, the America East has presented Stony Brook with yet another obstacle. The Seawolves are still planning to compete, one way or another.
“Day in and day out, you play to win games,” shortstop Stanton Leuthner said. “We’re still going to have the opportunity to do that. We still have an opportunity to make the tournament through an at-large bid. Even though on paper it’s unlikely, we still believe we can. There are so many things to play and compete for. We should just go out there and have fun doing it.”
Despite the ban from playoff contention, Stony Brook is predicted to come out on top during the regular season. The Seawolves received four of seven first-place votes in the America East preseason coaches poll, making them the favorite to win their third regular-season title in a row.
“It’s a position we’ve been in before, but that also puts the bullseye on our back,” Senk said. “With that, you have to prepare a certain way. We’re going to get everybody’s best shot and so we’ve got to make sure that we’re ready to go. We know what it’s like to be the ‘hunted,’ so hopefully we’ll handle it as many teams have in the past.”
Expectations are high for the Seawolves both on the mound and at the plate. Senk’s starting rotation is manned by right-hander Nick DeGennaro, who produced a 3.14 ERA over 77.1 innings on the mound in 2021. During conference play, he is 7-0 with a 2.31 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. Stony Brook’s ace was also a part of the America East All-Championship team last year and was recently honored in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper as a preseason All-American.
There are still questions regarding the rest of the rotation following DeGennaro. Sam Turcotte, Jared Milch and Brian Herrmann all graduated, and those spots will need to be filled by a number of returning pitchers. One player to keep an eye on is right-hander Brandon Lashley, who was sidelined during the 2021 season due to a UCL tear.
Another name worth mentioning is left-handed freshman pitcher Colton Book. Senk describes Book as an “X-factor kind of guy” with a huge presence in the pitching staff.
Catcher Shane Paradine will be the new battery mate of the starting rotation. Paradine played mainly as a designated hitter in 2021, hitting .328 with a .916 OPS. He was second only to center fielder John LaRocca for the team lead in batting average. Paradine provides both an offensive and defensive presence behind the plate.
“Shane is awesome,” DeGennaro said. “He’s awesome to throw to, and he really gets behind you. I think one of my favorite things about Shane is that when you make the big pitch, it’s almost like he’s more excited than you are.”
With every season comes the loss of a few key pieces. In some cases, it is clear who will be required to step up and take more responsibility on the field; Paradine will be filling the shoes of catcher John Tuccillo, who graduated and transferred to Bryant University.
At first base, the job will likely be handed over to Brett Paulsen, who batted .272 in 45 games in 2021. Paulsen’s defense is a huge reason for his future at first, according to Senk, as he replaces the graduating Chris Hamilton, one of Stony Brook’s most feared hitters in the last few seasons.
The Seawolves have a number of familiar faces returning to help bolster the infield. Leuthner, who was sidelined for 11 games midway through last year due to an injury, is one of those faces. Upon returning from the bench, Leuthner batted .306 to close the season.
“[I] just [focused on] having fun because baseball is a fun game,” Leuthner said. “As soon as you make it something that’s not fun, it becomes way harder. It’s much more relaxing to just have fun.”
Third baseman Evan Giordano will be returning for the Seawolves as well. Giordano is arguably one of the most consistent hitters on the squad. Besides leading the Seawolves in OPS (.927) in 2021, Giordano was no stranger to the spotlight. He delivered a walk-off single in an elimination game against UAlbany, had a 7-for-7 day at the plate against UMass Lowell and had a 32-game on-base streak over a span of two months last year.
“My goal is to come together as a team, and bring the team together to win as many games as possible to get to that NCAA Regional,” Giordano said.
Cole Durkan is the favorite to win the center field job, replacing LaRocca. Durkan’s sophomore season in 2021 included a number of clutch moments, most notably a game-tying leadoff home run in the top of the ninth inning in an eventual win against UAlbany. He was also a huge factor on the basepaths, going 12-for-12 in steal attempts.
Durkan will not be able to man center on Opening Day, as he is currently dealing with an ankle injury that will likely sideline him for the start of the season.
“There are guys who are more than capable of going out there and playing center field,” Senk said. “Idris Carter, for example, is a terrific athlete.”
Carter made three starts in the outfield last year as a freshman, making a name for himself by tripling in each of his first two plate appearances as a Seawolf. Utility player Evan Fox, who spent time at left field and second base last year as a freshman, is another candidate.
Fox became one of four players in program history to steal more than 20 bags in a single season, joining major-leaguer Travis Jankowski. This year, he hopes his experience from year one will help him to obtain and adapt to a larger role on the team.
“I think a lot of it comes down to just being confident and believing in yourself,” Fox said. “You practice so hard and do all this work — you just have to get out there and do what you do and play your game. Play to your strengths. Don’t try and be somebody you’re not.”
Fox’s confidence emanates throughout the team. In spite of obstacles both on and off the field, the Seawolves look strong heading into the 2022 season. With the complications of the America East’s decision looming in the background, the Seawolves will look to win the regular season for the second year in a row.
Senk will not be serving in head coach duties to start the year, though; he was handed a nine-game suspension by the America East for violating “NCAA Baseball Rules and America East Bylaws governing conduct.” Associate head coach Jim Martin will likely assume Senk’s duties to start the year.
Opening day against McNeese State is set to take place in Lake Charles, Louisiana on Friday, Feb. 18.