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Seawolves Baseball: A Golden State of Mind

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Seawolf baseball players who hail from California include: (front row L-R) Joshua Mason, Austin Shives and Chad Lee; (standing L-R) Brandon McNitt, Mike Hubbard, Dan Zamora and Kenny Ball. (Photo by John Griffin)

Stony Brook has one of the best double-play combinations going — a strong academic program and a tradition of winning baseball. Last year alone, following the Seawolves’ first trip to the College World Series, seven student-athletes were selected in the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft and they all went on to make their professional debuts later in the summer. To get an idea just how significant that number is, consider this: Arizona State, the school with the highest number of draft picks in 2012, had 10.

One sign of Stony Brook’s ability to attract superior candidates is that seven student-athletes on the 2013 roster are from California, a collegiate baseball hotbed in its own right that boasts perennial powerhouses such as Cal State Fullerton and UCLA.

“First and foremost, with all recruits it’s about education,” said Head Coach Matt Senk. “And whether you want to be an engineer or involved in the health science world, you have the best of both worlds [academics and athletics] at Stony Brook.”

Junior Brandon McNitt, a right-handed pitcher from Chino Hills, California, shed some light on his decision to enroll at Stony Brook: “I came here because of the strong academic reputation. My main goal is to be a plastic surgeon…. I also knew I would play a lot as a freshman because of the roster size (28 players). Big schools can have as many as 35 to 40 players; there are more opportunities to prove yourself here.”

And prove himself he did: Last season, McNitt went 8–4 with a 2.76 ERA and helped the Seawolves nab Regional and Super Regional titles and become the first Northeast Region team since 1986 to advance to the College World Series. And this year, during the last weekend of the regular season, the Seawolves were faced with a winner-take-all game on the road for the right to move on to the America East Championship. McNitt pitched his team to a 10–3 victory over the University of Hartford Hawks on May 18, allowing the Seawolves to advance to the conference tournament for the eighth consecutive season.

McNitt’s California teammates agreed that a quality education factored heavily into their decision to come to Stony Brook, as well as the chance to swap coasts and to play for a team that is making a name for itself.

Josh Mason ’14, a business major from Woodland Hills, California, also a right-handed pitcher and outfielder, said he came here because New York is one of the major business hubs in the world and because he always wanted to live on the East Coast.

Infielder Austin Shives ’16, from San Diego, California, cited a chance to play as a freshman, a great education and the opportunity to experience another part of the United States.

Freshman pitcher Chad Lee, a health science major from San Dimas, California, said he picked Stony Brook because it is a “top 50 school” and always has a shot at making the playoffs.

The Seawolves’ record bears that out. During the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Senk guided the Seawolves to a 94–27 record and a best-in-the-country .777 winning percentage, clinching three America East tournament championships and two America East regular season titles over the past five years.

Senk traces Stony Brook’s recruiting success in California to a number of factors, including entry into Division I 13 years ago, the additions of Associate Head Coach/Recruiting Coordinator Joe Pennucci and Assistant Coach/Pitching Coach Mike Marron — who have both brought tremendous connections, according to Senk — and former Seawolf pitcher Tyler Johnson’s success both on and off the diamond. Johnson, an Academic All-American and 33rd round pick by the Oakland Athletics in 2012, is currently in the A’s minor league system.

“When we went to Division I, we made the decision to play the best programs in the country and were competitive in non-conference play,” said Senk. “Even though we lost more than we won, our name got out there and we got noticed across the country.”

“The student-athlete who will be the right fit here will be resilient, can handle the ups and downs of a season and combine skill with some mental toughness,” added Pennucci. “Most importantly, they are playing for a proven winner and getting a great degree. That fit may not be available in their own backyard.”

— Glenn Jochum

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