In a series completely indicative of how its year has gone, the Stony Brook baseball team wrapped up its 2023 season in despair.
After sweeping Monmouth, the Seawolves (23-29, 14-16 CAA) had a chance to clinch a spot in the 2023 Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) baseball tournament. They needed to sweep the last-place Towson Tigers down in Maryland and needed either Delaware or William & Mary to get swept.
As fate would have it, the Tribe were swept in a rain-shortened, two-game series. However, after winning the series opener 9-3 on Thursday, Stony Brook dropped the final two games 15-5 and 12-2 to fall out of the playoff race.
Thursday went exactly how Stony Brook needed it to. Starting pitcher Ben Fero tossed a gem in the last outing of his NCAA career, and relief pitcher Nick DeGennaro locked down a four-out save in his final game as well. Second baseman Evan Fox broke the program’s single-season stolen base record, stealing his 37th base of the year in the top of the ninth inning.
Right fielder Matty Wright started the scoring in the top of the third inning when he pulled the first home run of his NCAA career down the right-field line to give Stony Brook a 2-0 lead. Later in the frame, left fielder Matt Brown-Eiring singled home third baseman Evan Giordano to put the Seawolves up by three runs.
In the next inning, Fox doubled home a run and Giordano followed with an RBI groundout, giving Fero a five-run cushion. He mowed down the Tigers’ lineup until they finally broke through in the bottom of the eighth inning.
With two runners in scoring position and two outs, Towson shortstop Casey Bishop singled through the middle to break up Fero’s shutout. Head coach Matt Senk pulled Fero for one final time in their career together and brought in DeGennaro, who surrendered a two-run single to Towson third baseman Bryce Frederick.
Now leading by only two runs in the top of the ninth inning, designated hitter Shane Paradine gave Stony Brook the insurance runs it needed. With the bases loaded and one out, Paradine smoked a three-run triple into the right-center field gap to extend the Seawolves’ lead to 8-3. Later in the inning after Brown-Eiring reached on a fielder’s choice, center fielder Derek Yalon singled him home to put the finishing touches on the scoreboard.
DeGennaro promptly locked the game down in the bottom of the ninth inning, allowing just a walk before slamming the door in Towson’s face. Later in the day, the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) Seahawks won a 16-13 slugfest over William & Mary to keep the Seawolves alive in the playoffs.
Fero was dominant, allowing just three runs on five hits over 7 ⅔ innings. He struck out nine batters while only walking three.
Game two between UNCW and William & Mary on Friday was rained out and rescheduled for Saturday, allowing Stony Brook to only focus on itself. Unfortunately for the Seawolves, that wound up not mattering in the end.
Things started off well for Stony Brook when Giordano ripped a two-run homer in the top of the first inning. In the home half of the inning, Towson center fielder James Moses got one back with a leadoff home run, but Yalon restored the two-run lead with an RBI double in the top of the third.
The Tigers got back into it in the bottom of the fifth inning. With a runner on first base and one out, Towson second baseman Jordan Peyton bounced a single past shortstop Matt Miceli and into center field. Yalon bobbled the ball, allowing the runner to come all the way around and score from first base. After that, an RBI double by Towson designated hitter Cole Stefano tied the game. Moses followed in suit and gave his team a 4-3 lead with an RBI single.
With two outs in the top of the seventh inning, Paradine roped a fastball over the left-field fence to tie the game at four apiece. Relief pitcher Quinlan Montgomery started the bottom of the seventh inning in place of starting pitcher Josh O’Neill and pitched a perfect inning with a pair of strikeouts to preserve the tie.
Montgomery was a different pitcher when he came back out to pitch the bottom of the eighth inning, as the Tigers lineup ate him alive. After allowing back-to-back hits to lead off the frame, Montgomery served up an opposite-field, three-run homer to Frederick to put Towson back on top. He walked the next batter on four pitches and was pulled in favor of relief pitcher Kyle Johnson.
Almost prophetically, Johnson allowed a scary foul ball to his first batter that had home run distance. He worked around the near miss and got the strikeout, but then Towson catcher John Cristino kept a two-run homer fair by a mile to straightaway left field. Towson now led 9-4 and did not slow down.
After Cristino’s no-doubter, Johnson retired Peyton before walking the next batter. With two outs, Senk pulled Johnson in favor of relief pitcher Eric Foster, who failed to record a single out. Moses greeted him with a single, and then Bishop lifted a three-run home run to make it 12-4 Towson. Three more runs came around to score in the inning, capping off a nine-hit, 11-run eighth inning for the Tigers. They even hit for the cycle as a team in the frame.
In the top of the ninth inning, Wright slugged his second home run in as many days, but it was far too little and way too late to help Stony Brook get into the playoffs. The Seawolves suffered their 15th conference loss of the season, ensuring that they could not finish with more wins than any of the other three teams still in the hunt (William & Mary, Delaware and Hofstra). Having lost the head-to-head tiebreaker to all three teams, Stony Brook was officially eliminated.
After seeing their hopes of reaching a regional come to an end, the Seawolves were noticeably deflated. They played one of their worst games of the year and were held to just two runs on five hits by a Towson squad with an ERA over 7.00.
With nothing left to play for but pride, Senk went with a lineup more similar to the midweek games than the conference games. He started Fox at shortstop, Johnny Pilla at second base and Chris Leone behind the dish. Senk also used a bullpen game rather than pushing starting pitcher Eddie Smink. He used eight total pitchers (Smink and seven relievers) in the contest.
Smink allowed an unearned run on three hits in two innings pitched. With the way that Stony Brook swung the bat, the one run wound up being enough in the end for Smink to earn the loss.
Towson scored 10 runs between the third and fourth innings to go up 11-0 and tacked on an extra run in the bottom of the sixth.
Stony Brook finally found the scoreboard in the top of the seventh inning when pinch hitter Matt DeStefano grounded into a fielder’s choice on the left side of the infield to drive in a run. Right after that, Fox put a cap on his stellar junior year with an RBI single.
By losing, Stony Brook also clinched a losing record in conference play for the first time since 2005, which was the team’s fourth year in the America East Conference.
Several Seawolves ended their 2023 campaigns — and perhaps their NCAA careers — on a high note. Fox had the best weekend of them all, going 7-for-14 with two doubles, two RBIs, two runs scored and three stolen bases. He finished the year with 39 steals in 45 attempts.
Paradine went 5-for-12 with a double, a triple, four RBIs and two runs scored. Wright ended his freshman year with a bang, going 4-for-10 with a double, two home runs, three RBIs, four runs and a steal.
Stony Brook now faces an offseason bound to bring major roster turnover. The team is guaranteed to lose its five graduate students, including Giordano, Fero and DeGennaro. There are seven more seniors who have a fifth year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is unclear which of the 2023 seniors will be returning, but one thing remains certain: the Seawolves will look very different next year.