If there’s anything the Stony Brook baseball team proved in its opening conference series, it’s that you can never count them out.
The Seawolves (7-11) staged walk-off comebacks in the final two games of the series against the UMass Lowell River Hawks to sweep the three-game set in dramatic fashion. The weekend was filled with many exciting and intense moments as the two teams traded high-leverage plays all series long.
The series kicked off on Friday afternoon, when an unexpected pitcher’s duel took place between Stony Brook starter Ben Fero and UMass Lowell starter Ryan Towle. Fero turned in a career day for the Seawolves, as he gave them 6.1 strong innings, allowing only one earned run on six hits while striking out four and walking one. Towle had an up-and-down game, as he finished poorly, but struck out ten and walked two over 5.1 innings.
The scoring started in the bottom of the first, when left fielder Matt Brown-Eiring hit an RBI double to right-center field to help the Seawolves draw first blood.
Staked to an early 1-0 lead, Fero retired his first nine batters before allowing a leadoff home run to third baseman Robert Gallagher. That tied the game in the top of the fourth, but Stony Brook immediately responded with three more in the bottom of the fourth.
Fero tossed a couple of more zeros, and then got more run support in the bottom of the sixth, when first baseman Brett Paulsen lined his first home run of the year into the left field net. It was only the second home run of Paulsen’s career, with his first coming in March 2020 against Iona.
Paulsen, typically an opposite-field hitter, attributes the new adjustments to his approach for his home run.
“It felt pretty good. I’ve been working on pulling the ball more, and just staying deeper in counts. Today was just a prime example of hard work paying off,” Paulsen said.
With one out, Lowell went to their bullpen, bringing on right-hander Brendan Williams. He retired the first batter he faced, but then center fielder Cole Durkan smoked a 1-0 pitch to right field for his first home run of the year. Stony Brook led 6-1 going into the top of the seventh.
Reliever Brendan Pattermann came in to clean up after Fero and settled down nicely after a troublesome seventh. He allowed a leadoff home run to outfielder Ryan Proto, but then retired six of his next seven hitters to slam the door on game one. Stony Brook won 6-4, and Fero earned his first win of the year.
“They’re a good hitting team, so I just let them put it in play and let my amazing defense do the work. They were spectacular; I couldn’t ask for better,” Fero said.
Game two was as competitive as can be, with the players working overtime to settle a victor. Brandon Lashley started for Stony Brook, and had an inconsistent day. He only went 5.1 innings, allowing four earned runs on seven hits. He allowed a couple of hard hit balls, but his defense made some plays to help him out.
The scoring started when third baseman Evan Giordano bounced an RBI single through the left side to give the Seaowolves a 1-0 lead. However, Lowell took the lead in the next half-inning after plating a pair off of Lashley.
Trailing 2-1 in the fourth, second baseman Evan Fox lined his second home run of the year to tie the game at two. Fox only hit one last year as a freshman, but became the first Seawolf to reach two this year.
In the top of the seventh, the River Hawks tied the game on a sacrifice fly from center fielder Gerry Siracusa. Relief pitcher Andrew Ledbetter, who allowed that tying run to score, was able to limit the damage and then pitch a perfect eighth inning before handing the ball off to Josh O’Neill in the ninth inning.
O’Neill pitched a scoreless top of the ninth inning, but was matched by Lowell’s Matt Draper, a right-handed submarine pitcher. With the game tied at five, the game went to the tenth inning, where Proto broke the tie with a home run to give Lowell a 6-5 lead.
Down to their final two outs, Giordano stepped up to the plate to face Draper. He got a good pitch to hit and did not miss it, hammering it over the left-center field wall for a game-tying homer.
Following him was Durkan, who was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts on the day. But, Durkan drove a no-doubter out to deep left-center field and walked the game off.
“It’s definitely the best win of the year, and the most exciting win of the year,” Giordano said.
“I had one walk-off last year, but that was definitely the more exciting one right there,” Durkan said.
Giordano and the Seawolves experienced déjà vu on Sunday when they completed the series sweep. Kyle Johnson started on the mound for Stony Brook, but did not have a good outing. He only went four innings, allowing five earned runs on four hits while walking four. The River Hawks scored a pair off of Johnson in the top of the first to take an early 2-0 lead.
Shortstop Stanton Leuthner jolted life back into the dugout with a first-pitch, leadoff home run. Later, Giordano bounced an infield single to third base, and a throwing error allowed Paulsen to score the tying run.
Trailing 5-4 in the top of the fifth, head coach Matt Senk turned to Quinlan Montgomery. His final line wasn’t pretty — three earned runs on four hits in 3.2 innings — but he also stranded several runners to help limit the damage and keep the Seawolves in the game. Cedric Rose extended the Lowell lead with a two-run single off of Montgomery in the seventh, and Stony Brook trailed 7-4 by the seventh-inning stretch.
The Seawolves cut into their three-run deficit with a pair of runs in the bottom of the seventh, capped off by a Giordano screaming double off the batter’s eye. However, Lowell extended their lead to 8-6 in the next half-inning.
The bottom of the eighth was met with some controversy, as Leuthner lined a single to center field that appeared to score Derek Yalon. However, a controversial call at home plate kept the run from scoring, leading to an enraged argument from Senk.
Rose then drove in an insurance run in the top of the ninth to make it 9-6 Lowell, and the writing appeared to be on the wall for Stony Brook.
However, they still had life. Facing right-hander Zach Rodgers in the bottom of the tenth, Paulsen singled up the middle with one out. Brown-Eiring then stepped to the plate and put a healthy cut on a hanging curveball, roping it over the center field fence for a home run. It was his first home run of the year and the second of his young career, making the score 9-8 Lowell.
“It feels great. He hung a curveball and I was just like, ‘Come on, send it,’” Brown-Eiring said.
Then came Saturday’s game-tying hero with a chance to do the same. Giordano saw a first-pitch fastball and hammered it to deep left field. The ball landed out of sight, and the game was tied once again in dramatic fashion.
“I saw Matt [Brown-Eiring] just hit a curveball dead-center, so I was thinking fastball all the way and he threw it first pitch,” Giordano said.
In the bottom of the tenth, after a fly ball out, Brown-Eiring returned to the plate and worked a five-pitch walk. With the bases loaded and two outs, who else but Giordano stepped up to the plate.
Giordano took advantage of the struggling Quigley, laying off just enough of his pitches to walk in the game-winning run. The two fought hard as the count went full, but Giordano won the battle, and Stony Brook won the war.
“Since I’ve been here, it’s been engraved that it’s our conference. We’ve went after conference games with that mentality that we want to take control of this conference … Playoffs or not, we want to try and win every single conference game that we can,” Giordano said.
Senk spoke to his team’s resiliency after game three and attributed it to the program’s pedigree, as well as the current team’s culture.
“Oftentimes, things like this happen because of the expectation level here. Players come here with that winning expectation level. Once they get here, there’s people that proceed them, and now they’re the ones doing it … Part of that culture is about mental toughness, resiliency and physical toughness,” Senk said.