Baseball Looks To Make Waves As America East Rookie

Ed Kull is one of 11 returners back to the 2002 edition of the Seawolves.
 
Ed Kull is one of 11 returners back to the 2002 edition of the Seawolves.
 
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Feb. 25, 2002

Many thought with the graduation of several top players in 2000 last season would finally be one in which the Seawolves baseball program leveled off from its winning ways. Not to be. A 35-16 record and a New York State Baseball Conference regular season title showed the Seawolves to be a resilient bunch.

Much the same scenario faces the Pack in 2002. Gone is Alex Trezza - who set the single season and career marks in homeruns, collecting 23 last season on his way to 55 career bombs. Gone is Chris Flinn, who owns every major pitching record at Stony Brook including career strikeouts with 223. Gone are two starting pitchers in Jeremy Carle and Lee Reynolds who combined for 14 wins last season.

Never fear - head coach Matt Senk and friends are here prepared to make good on a fifth straight 20+-win season.

Stony Brook enters the America East Conference with five starters returning and 12 letterwinners back. Baseball America believes the Seawolves will rally once again even with the departure of its two biggest names. They have selected the Seawolves second in their seven-team preseason poll, behind perennial favorite Maine.

The Pack will be pressed again, however, to prove their ability on the road as is the case with many teams in the Northeast. Of the team's first 22 games, 18 are on the road. Overall, 34 of 52 are away from Stony Brook. A trip to San Francisco, California highlights the schedule with 10 games against Pacific, Sacramento and the University of San Francisco. Conference play begins April 6 and 7 with the University of Vermont coming to town for a four-game set. Binghamton and Hartford will also visit Seawolves field while Stony Brook will have to face Albany, Northeastern and Maine on the road.

PITCHING STAFF

The biggest mystery this season will be the Seawolves pitching staff. How it grows in 2002, so will grow the Seawolves. Many new and different faces will take the mound. Gone from the starting rotation are Flinn, Lee Reynolds and Jeremy Carle. The preseason tentative four-man rotation involves Anthony Stutz, Kevin Willi, and newcomers Jonathan Lewis and Jamie Szwejkowski.

Stutz made quite an imprint on the Seawolves staff last season with five saves while winning five games and posting a 3.57 ERA during a team-best 23 appearances. His 2:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio is something the Seawolves will count on. Stutz - an America Baseball Coaches Association All-Northeast Region pitcher - faces a difficult mindset change as he will be starting ballgames instead of finishing them.

Kevin Willi has been a consistent performer for the Seawolves during the last two seasons. Even with injury trouble plaguing him most of last season, Willi still won four games as a starter and was instrumental in the team's 2-1 upset of Winthrop early on in the season. If he is healthy, Willi will be a major cog in the starting rotation. Freshman Jonathan Lewis will be counted on immediately as a starter. No stranger to pressure or success, Lewis was the Newsday Queens Player of the Year in 2001. As a senior at Francis Lewis High School, Lewis posted an ERA of 0.54 and had 69 strikeouts in 39 innings.

There are no definitive roles out of the bullpen yet but expect to see Dave Mischo as one of the first on the mound in relief. A two-way player, Mischo was counted on 18 times in relief by Senk as a freshman, posting an impressive 3-0 mark and a 3.46 ERA. Opponents managed just a .259 average against the sophomore. He will shoulder a strong role in relief.

There is along line of relievers that will see time, including Will Brumfield, Dan Markowski, Ray Zimmerman and Dan Hoffman.

THE OUTFIELD Stony Brook's strongest asset may be its outfield. Lee Lipschutz, Dwayne Whitaker and Brad Foster were major allies in Stony Brook's offense last season and will be again this year. Lipschutz comes off a season in which he hit a career-best .319. Lipschutz possesses great power and has just begun to harness it. If he hits his full potential, Stony Brook will have its next offensive superstar. Expect Lipschutz to start in right field.

No one could've expected the impact Dwayne Whitaker had on the Seawolves last season. Not even Dwayne himself. Quite possibly the team's most consistent player, Whitaker hit .358 with 30 RBI. He will man the left field post where he made 35 starts last season and committed just one error in 38 attempts. Whitaker was one of two Seawolves picked to Baseball America's Preseason All-America East team.

Brad Foster hit .306 in a season that saw him play in 37 games. His game-winning solo homerun against Winthrop helped the team to a 2-1 upset victory. Foster has worked hard in the preseason for playing time and will see some initially as a reserve but could crack the starting lineup anytime.

Other returners that will play in the outfield include Matt Blumberg and Andrew Zielinski . Blumberg got off to quite a start last season, going six for his first eight at bats with three RBI. He finished with a .333 batting average. Zielinski saw time in 12 games and recorded three hits with a pair of RBI. Both will most likely see time off the bench.

Coaches are high on the play of newcomer Andrew Larsen. A Northeast Region All-American last season, Larsen hit a whopping .575 as a senior with nine homeruns and 35 RBI. He is a gifted player with a strong arm and will more than likely be in the starting line-up on March 2 when the team takes on Campbell.

Others that will see time in the outfield include Mark Taormina. Taormina comes to the Seawolves by way of Suffolk Community College where he was an all-region outfielder. A 1999 gold glove winner at East Islip High School, Taormina makes time in the outfield a very competitive situation amongst the reserves.

THE INFIELD

Stony Brook's infield will see a make-over of sorts. Gone for this season are Garrett Renner and Jimmy McCurdy. However, newcomers are ready to fill the holes - including standout shortstop Matt Devins. A First-Team All-State, All-County and All-League performer, Devins hit .480 as a senior last year with six homeruns and 55 RBI. A smooth glove and strong arm, Devins will be SB's everyday player come March.

Manning the hot-corner will be returner Rich Graham. The transfer from the University of Hartford was an outstanding addition to the Seawolves line-up last season with a .371 batting average, a team-high 18 doubles and 23 RBI.

The right side of the infield is where questions remain. If standouts Garrett Renner and Bobby Ziolkowski are eligible, it will be Renner sliding from short to second and Ziolkowski manning first. If not, and with the influx of third basemen this season, Graham would most likely move to second and RJ Etzel would take first base. As for third base, Dave Mischo would more than likely split time with his pitching duties.

CATCHERS Ed Kull received outstanding experience last season as a sophomore, mainly as the team's starter. He hit .259 with one homerun and 17 RBI and threw out 31% of runners who tried to steal on him. Most importantly was the experience he gained in handling the Seawolves' pitching staff. That experience will come in handy when he takes the field as a junior with a relatively young pitching staff. He will be the team's everyday starter come March.

Ray Chopay, Rob Sandora and Stu Juarez will back up Kull. A two-sport athlete at Commack High School, Chopay collected 50 RBI's and seven homeruns over the course of his junior and senior seasons. Sandora will see time behind the plate and at first base. Juarez was a three-time all-county player and an all-state selection as a senior at East Meadow High School. Sandora will also see time as the team's designated hitter.

THE BENCH Besides its outstanding depth in the outfield, Stony Brook benefits from one of the better benches around as far as its coaches are concerned.

Head coach Matt Senk - now in his 12th season - has won at least 20 games in each of the last four and has won 30 or more during the team's first two Division I seasons. The New York State Baseball Conference Coach of the Year - Senk has developed quite a reputation as one of the best recruiters and strategists in the college game.

He is aided by 10th year coach Gerry Sputo. After a nine-year stint as a part-time coach, Sputo takes over as the program's first full-time coach. Tom Nielsen enters his second full season as the team's pitching instructor after an outstanding career at Fordham.