Evan Giordano’s clutch hit completed two monumental comebacks in one swing, as the Stony Brook baseball team captured the 2022 America East regular season title on May 25.
Stony Brook baseball (27-25, 21-9 AE) entered the final week of the season just two games behind Maine for first place in the conference. Stony Brook was going to need to win at least two games against NJIT while getting some help from the cellar-dwelling Hartford Hawks — the team Maine was scheduled to play in a three-game series — along the way. It seemed like a longshot, but a banner was still in play for the Seawolves.
Alas, the stars aligned perfectly for Stony Brook. Maine lost the series opener to Hartford 13-9. Meanwhile, the Seawolves won the first game 5-3 behind a career-game from starting pitcher Ben Fero. Fero dominated, tossing 8⅓ innings while striking out 11 batters. Both marks were career highs for Fero, who only allowed three runs on six hits without issuing a walk. He credited the pre-game scouting and preparation for his performance.
“Going into the game, coach [Alex] Brosnan and I discussed my last start against NJIT: it wasn’t good,” Fero said. “We thought we were going to go inside with the fastball more … We learned from that, and I was just able to hit my spots today, thank goodness.”
Opposite Fero was Ryan Fischer, who dominated Stony Brook on April 29. However, the Stony Brook bats got to Fischer this time around; they tagged him for five runs on nine hits over six innings. Catcher Shane Paradine led the offense, going 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. Paradine said that the offense wanted to redeem themselves and bounce back against Fischer.
“We were ready,” Paradine said. “We wanted to come back and show him the real offense that we are.”
Sparking the offense’s performance was right fielder Derek Yalon’s game-tying home run to lead off the bottom of the third. He came into the series on a hot streak, raising his batting average over 40 points.
“I really just tried to relax my mind in the box,” Yalon said. “I’m trying not to do too much. Just trying to spray the ball all over the field and hit the ball hard.”
Yalon and left fielder Matt Brown-Eiring both homered for the Seawolves in game one. The two were teammates at Connetquot High School, but had never accomplished this feat until now.
“That was awesome,” Yalon said. “I was honestly wondering when it was going to happen.”
Game two was a disaster for the Seawolves, as they lost 18-16. The Seawolves drew first blood on a leadoff home run from Giordano, but were quickly answered with a three-spot from NJIT. The Highlanders extended their lead to 4-1 in the top of the fourth inning.
Stony Brook cut into the deficit with a run in the bottom of the fourth and got a scoreless fifth inning from reliever Kyle Johnson. In the bottom of the fifth, Giordano led off with a home run over the batter’s eye. Then, with two outs, first baseman Brett Paulsen tied the game with an opposite-field RBI double.
NJIT decided to intentionally walk shortstop Stanton Leuthner, bringing up Yalon with two runners aboard. Yalon made them pay, launching a three-run bomb to left field to break the tie.
But then the rain came, and the Seawolves suffered. As the drops fell with two outs in the top of the sixth, Stony Brook committed three straight throwing errors that led to seven unearned runs. NJIT took an 11-7 lead, along with all of the momentum. Stony Brook answered with two runs in the bottom of the sixth, but NJIT then extended their lead and ran away with it.
NJIT held the lead the whole rest of the way, no matter how small it shrunk. The rain came down hard, leading to lots of walks from both sides; Stony Brook’s pitchers walked nine, while NJIT’s walked 13.
Stony Brook got lucky though, as Hartford beat Maine 11-9 to keep Stony Brook just one game back with one more to play. Head coach Matt Senk was disappointed by his team’s performance, but was eager to turn the page to the next game.
“Clearly disappointed… As well as we played yesterday, we played that poorly today,” Senk said. “Just so many free bases; we had the inning from hell defensively. But that being said, hopefully the last inning, hanging in there and fighting until the end will be the way we come out tomorrow.”
However, the Seawolves did not start game three on the right foot. First baseman Nick Hussey lined a home run to lead off the top of the third inning, and then center fielder Albert Choi extended their lead with a three-run homer. NJIT led 4-0 heading to the bottom of the third.
The Seawolves had a chance to get right back into it. They loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the third, but Aidan Kidd struck out Paulsen to strand three runners.
In the top of the fourth, NJIT knocked starter Colton Book out of the game with two men on base. Facing reliever Josh O’Neill, third baseman Jared Donnelly hit an RBI single to make the score 5-0. O’Neill settled down and stranded two to limit the damage.
By this point, Hartford completed a sweep of Maine after winning the third game 7-2. The championship opportunity was still there for Stony Brook.
O’Neill wound up pitching the game of his life. He kept the Highlanders at bay, opening the door for a Seawolves comeback. However, they continued to waste scoring opportunities until the bottom of the sixth.
Three walks in the inning loaded the bases for center fielder Cole Durkan with just one out. He hit a high fly ball to deep left field, but left fielder Julio Marcano dropped it. A run scored to make it 5-1, but Durkan overran the runner in front of him and was called out by the umpire. With two men on and two outs, Giordano stepped to the plate and delivered a three-run homer to left field. This made it a one-run game.
Second baseman Evan Fox doubled down the left field line to keep the rally going, and later scored from second on an infield single by Brown-Eiring. This tied the game at 5-5, making it a brand new ballgame.
O’Neill continued to keep the Highlanders off the board. He stranded two runners in the eighth and two more in the ninth, but Stony Brook could not take the lead against reliever Grant Vurpillat.
Stony Brook had the walk-off run on third base with two outs in the ninth, but Yalon struck out to send the game to extra innings. O’Neill struck out the side in the top of the 10th, giving Stony Brook another chance to win it. He finished his game going 6⅔ innings, allowing no earned runs on four hits.
“I wasn’t coming out of that game,” O’Neill said. “I felt like I had so much juice left in the tank. I had everything. Everything was working.”
In the bottom of the 10th, Vurpillat ran out of gas. He walked designated hitter Ryan Micheli and Durkan back-to-back to lead off the inning, bringing Giordano to the plate with the game-winning run in scoring position. Head coach Robbie McClellan turned to reliever Drew Standen to put out the fire, but he could not.
On cue, Giordano lined an 0-2 fastball right through the middle to drive in the walk-off run. The Seawolves dogpiled in center field to celebrate their 6-5 win and their regular season title.
“With them coming in, we knew it was going to be a battle … It was just nice to come out on top again against them,” Giordano said.
Senk was elated after the win, citing this as one of the proudest moments of his coaching career.
“We talked about a lot of things to play for, but this was the number one thing,” Senk said. “We went through a lot of highs and lows, especially in non-conference and mid-weeks. But on weekends, boy, they were locked in. And I’m really happy for them. You go back a decade and Stony Brook goes to the College World Series. Here we are 10 years later, and the common denominator between this championship and that great moment is resiliency.”
Giordano and O’Neill were recognized for their excellency, as they won America East Player of the Week and Pitcher of the Week, respectively.
Stony Brook finished the year 27-25 overall, and 21-9 in conference games. The team went 14-7 at Joe Nathan Field, and four of those wins were walk-offs. They finished with an America East record equal to Maine, but they won the tiebreaker over Maine with a series win back in April.
The victory on Saturday also marked Senk’s 24th winning season as Stony Brook’s head coach. Senk ends the season with an 898-612-4 overall record with Stony Brook.
And now for Stony Brook, it’s on to new horizons. They head to the CAA after leaving the America East as champions one last time.