The Stony Brook baseball team waiting in the dugout to practice batting during a practice on Feb. 11. The Seawolves lost two of the three games against the McNeese State Cowboys. KAT PROCACCI/THE STATESMAN

The Stony Brook baseball team dropped the opening series of the 2022 season in rather disappointing fashion. 

The Seawolves took on the McNeese State Cowboys and lost two of three games, despite having an opportunity to have wound up on the other side. They blew a lead in game one and got seven zeroes from their pitching staff in game three.

Still, the Seawolves have many things to be pleased about.

Opening night saw ace pitcher Nick DeGennaro hand the ball off to lefty reliever Devin Sharkey in the bottom of the sixth inning. Stony Brook had a 4-2 lead, but Sharkey’s control struggles got the best of him. He hit two batters and also issued a walk. During his struggles finding the zone, McNeese third baseman Kade Morris lifted an opposite-field three-run homer off of Sharkey to give McNeese the lead back. They went on to add an insurance run in the bottom of the seventh, and beat Stony Brook by a score of 6-4. 

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Despite blowing the opening game, the bullpen pitched very well for Stony Brook. The bullpen allowed only four earned runs, all of them on opening night, while pitching 14 innings between the three games. That equates to a 2.57 bullpen ERA, and 12 of those 14 innings were scoreless.

Looking at Sharkey’s numbers from a year ago, it is apparent that when he is on his game, he is an effective weapon for Stony Brook. A lefty with good velocity, he had the best ERA amongst the relief pitchers at 3.38 in 2021. He also posted a .196 batting average against, which was only behind Kyle Johnson (.184) for best on the staff (minimum three innings pitched). However, Sharkey also walked 14 hitters in 13.1 innings of work, which got him into trouble often. 

This bullpen looked very good over the opening weekend, as five of the seven relievers did not surrender a run in their season debuts. If Sharkey can cut down on the walks, this bullpen will likely be even better. 

DeGennaro picked up right where he left off, which is always encouraging. His stock rose exponentially last year, going from the fourth starter at times to being their number one starter. He throws hard and has good control, as he struck out 10.7 batters per nine innings last year while only walking 3.14. He also led the team in innings pitched. 

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Having lost three very good starting pitchers to graduation (Sam Turcotte, Jared Milch, Brian Herrmann), the Seawolves are going to need to see DeGennaro replicate, if not improve upon, his success from a year ago. After dazzling for five innings on opening night with two hits, two runs, no walks and eight strikeouts, the bar remains high for DeGennaro.

On the offensive side of the ball, shortstop Stanton Leuthner was a standout offensively, leading the team with five hits, batting .417 with a pair of RBIs over the weekend. He also drew a walk and stole a base. Leuthner is coming off of a respectable sophomore season, in which he batted .274 with a .462 slugging percentage. He finished his sophomore year on torrid pace, as the final six weeks of the season saw him put up a .306/.379/.505 slash line from April 17 to May 29. During that stretch, he hit six doubles, a triple, four homers, drove in 19 RBIs and stole 11 bases. That great finish has set higher expectations for him, and he did not disappoint over the opening weekend. 

The Seawolves should also be pleased with their defensive effort, as the team only made one error, and did not commit an error over the final 24 innings they played. This is a defense that came into the season with a lot of question marks, as they lost several standouts in Chris Hamilton, John LaRocca and John Tuccillo. Hamilton was a stellar first baseman, while LaRocca played a reliable center field and Tuccillo was one of the hardest catchers to run on in the conference. In lieu of their absence, the Seawolves have several players either playing a new position from a year ago or taking on full-time starter roles for the first time. 

It is unclear what the position alignment will be for the entire season, but so far, Brett Paulsen looks apt to play the first base role for the rest of the year. He played an outstanding second base for Stony Brook last season while playing to the right of Hamilton, who he is now sliding over to replace.

Matt Brown-Eiring looks to be able to handle left field if they chose to move in that direction. Evan Fox is now actually playing his natural position at second base, which should leave no cause for concern despite the personnel change. Fox played left field during the 2021 season.

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Meanwhile, Idris Carter is a natural outfielder who can handle center field, as he is a very fast and talented athlete. He will, however, have to fight to keep that spot, as it is expected that Cole Durkan, who played right field last year, will take over center field duties once he fully returns from his ankle injury. Hitting a home run this weekend gives Carter a good chance to stay out there for the time being. In other words, despite questions in the field, the Seawolves’ defense looks to be in good hands — no pun intended.

Yes, the bats were relatively slow this weekend, but bats are usually slow in the early portion of a baseball season. The core formed by third baseman Evan Giordano, catcher Shane Paradine, Fox, Leuthner and Paulsen combined to hit .291 last year, leaving plenty of reasons for optimism. Stony Brook has several experienced hitters in its lineup, and once they hit their stride, they will be dangerous.

Looking ahead, Stony Brook will be tested again this weekend with a three-game series against the South Florida Bulls. South Florida made the NCAA Tournament last season, stunning the hosting No. 15 Florida Gators in the Gainesville Regional and eventually advancing to the Austin Super Regional. The Bulls lost in two games to the Texas Longhorns to end their season.

South Florida had a rough opening weekend, going 1-2 against three different opponents. The Bulls lost 5-4 to UConn on Friday night, beat Louisville 8-4 on Saturday by scoring six runs in the second inning and lost to Charlotte 8-3, allowing four runs in each of the first two innings.

The Bulls’ pitching staff has a lot to prove, putting up a 4.16 team ERA last season and a 5.00 ERA in their first three games. Stony Brook’s offense, coming off of an up-and-down opening series, will certainly look to exploit that this weekend.

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