It’s a new year for the Stony Brook University baseball team which begins its season on Feb. 19 against the Dayton Flyers at Spartanburg, South Carolina.
After back-to-back 35-win seasons, the team hopes to win the America East Conference Championship and make the NCAA Tournament as it prepares for the upcoming season.
“Winning the Conference Championship is the culture of our program,” Head Coach Matt Senk said. “The team is excited and confident, but it’s a tough and very competitive non-conference schedule.”
No players remain from the 2012 Stony Brook squad that fell in the College World Series. The 2016 team is full of players who are eager to make it that far for the first time.
“This year, the goal is to surpass what we accomplished last year and move on to a super regional and the College World Series,” senior outfielder Jack Parenty said.
For seniors like Parenty and Johnny Caputo, it’s their last chance to make it to the College World Series, but failing to do so wouldn’t detract from their college careers.
“All the seniors have had terrific careers here and have been instrumental,” Senk said. “They’re not only great players: They’re also great teammates with a high leadership quality.”
Having the experience of a senior is a huge advantage to players like pitcher Tim Knesnik, who has seen it all from the mound. Knesnik will be a huge factor for the team’s success, Senk said, as he can come out of the bullpen for short and long relief as well as start.
“Playing three seasons of college baseball here, I don’t get nervous facing any opponent,” Knesnik said. “I have seen that, as a team, we can beat anybody in the nation, and this confidence helps on the mound. I know we will win, and I just want to be out there every game I can to help my brothers win.”
In addition to a strong senior presence, the team will include a younger supporting cast with sophomores Malcolm Nachmanoff, Andruw Gazzola and Cole Creighton and freshmen Dylan Resk and Bret Clarke.
Entering his second season, infielder Gazzola is feeling more confident and comfortable than he did during his freshman year.
“Last season, it being my first year, I didn’t know what to expect, especially coming back from an injury,” Gazzola said. “This year, I know what’s ahead of me and what to expect during the long season.”
The team’s biggest strengths this season will be its toughness at the plate and ability to force opposing pitchers to throw a lot.
“We’re a tough at-bat from the first guy to the last in the order,” Senk said. “We have the triple threat of quality at-bats, a good short game and running. Once we’re on base, we can do some things.”
An important factor for any team to have during a long season is chemistry, which Stony Brook seems to have in spades. “This year’s team is very close,” Parenty said. “Each and every one of us hold each other accountable for anything that happens regardless of whether it’s on the field or in the weight room. Everyone has the same goal for the season and will do whatever’s necessary to accomplish it.”
The team will play six games in Spartanburg and Waco, Texas before returning home to Stony Brook to play at Joe Nathan Field. There are advantages to playing at home that the team hopes to use in its favor, such as the sun in left field and the turf.
“At times during the afternoon, the sun is tough and it’s difficult for those that aren’t used to it,” Parenty said. “Also, the turf is a big advantage. Being able to practice outside when other teams’ fields are covered in snow or are underwater is a positive for us.”
The team is in high spirits, heading into the long season with a mix of experienced veterans and eager novitiates.
“We have a great group of veteran guys who have been around the program for a couple of years,” infielder Caputo said. “Our younger guys are eager and want to learn the game. I think this team has a chance to be very special, and I am confident we can go even further than we did last year.”