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Strong finish to 2023 has Stony Brook softball hopeful for next year

The Stony Brook softball team celebrates a run against Monmouth on Saturday, May 6. The Seawolves had a strong end to their 2023 season, setting the bar higher for 2024. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

After spending almost the entire year under .500, the Stony Brook softball team salvaged a memorable first year in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).

The Seawolves were coming off a great final season in the America East Conference (AE) where they went 31-16 overall and 10-6 in conference play, finishing just shy of a regular-season title. Coming over to the CAA, expectations for the 2023 team were respectable. Stony Brook was picked to finish in fifth place, which would have been more than enough to make the postseason tournament. The team wound up underperforming the preseason prediction, but made up for the disappointment by going on a wild postseason run.

Stony Brook finished the 2023 season 29-27 overall and 10-13 in conference play, which was good for seventh place in the CAA. It took the Seawolves until the last game of the regular season to get back to .500, and it took them a 4-2 postseason run to clinch a winning season. Unlike last year, they had a tough start to their season, going just 6-7 during the nonconference tournaments down south.

Once the conference season opened up, things did not get better. Stony Brook was swept in each of its first two series by Elon and Hofstra, respectively. After sweeping Drexel in a shortened two-game series, the Seawolves lost two out of three games to the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). They were then swept again in three games, this time by Delaware, dropping them to just 13-20 overall and 3-11 in conference games.

Catcher Corinne Badger said that the team was not in the right mental state during the first half of the season.

“We just kept saying ‘We beat Mississippi State, so it doesn’t matter,’” Badger said in an interview with The Statesman. “We weren’t doing it for each other. We were a little selfish, including myself. We were just worrying about ourselves. We weren’t doing it for the team.”

After being swept by the Blue Hens, Stony Brook slowly began to figure things out. The team won seven of its next 10 games, including two run-rule victories against Hampton. The Seawolves then flew down to Maryland to take on the Towson Tigers, where they won two out of three games while dealing with inclement weather.

It was there where head coach Megan Bryant believed her team had finally hit its stride.

“It took us a while to get our sea legs underneath us,” Bryant said. “I think we found our mojo and grit that Towson weekend. Everything started to click: situational hitting, pitching them tough, doing things better in the field. That led us into the critical Monmouth series, which led us into the CAA [tournament].”

After handling Towson, Stony Brook returned home and ended its regular season with a three-game sweep of Monmouth. The Seawolves walked off on the Hawks in all three games, and Badger supplied them with two of the walk-off RBIs. By sweeping that series, they not only clinched a berth in the 2023 CAA softball tournament, but also moved up to the seventh seed and eliminated Monmouth from playoff contention.

Once the playoffs began, Stony Brook ran through the gauntlet and almost made it out on the other side. The team kicked off its postseason with a 5-3 victory over the sixth-seeded Charleston Cougars, escaping the single-elimination portion of the tournament. The next day, the Seawolves fell to third-seeded Hofstra but stayed alive by beating fourth-seeded Elon in extra innings. The next night, Stony Brook continued to upset the rest of the league by winning an 11-9 slugfest over second-seeded UNCW.

On Friday, May 12, Stony Brook pulled off one more thrilling upset by blanking top-seeded Delaware 1-0. Later that day, the team’s season came to an end with a 9-8 loss to Hofstra, who went on to win the conference tournament.

As just the seventh seed, the Seawolves eliminated four teams from the tournament, including three who beat them during the regular season. As one of the lowest seeds, they embraced an underdog mentality and rode it as far as they could.

“After a few games, we were calling it ‘the revenge tour,’” Badger said. “We wanted to send everyone home. We didn’t care; we were just going to go for their neck.”

The most apparent aspect of Stony Brook’s in-season turnaround was its offensive success. The team led the CAA in hits, home runs, slugging percentage, hit-by-pitches and sacrifice bunts. The lineup also finished second in scoring, batting average and on-base percentage. The Seawolves also slugged 59 doubles as a team, ranking third in the conference.

Perhaps the biggest contributor to that offense was outfielder Alyssa Costello, who did a little bit of everything on both sides of the ball. Costello won the batting title by a wide margin, batting .402 by season’s end. In each of her first two seasons in the NCAA, across two conferences (AE and CAA), Costello has led the league in batting average.

Costello co-led the team in hits with 66, tying her for third-most in the CAA. She led the team with 13 doubles, which was also tied for third-most in the CAA. Her eight home runs tied her for fifth in the CAA, while her 36 RBIs led Stony Brook and gave her sole possession of fifth place in the conference. Her .431 on-base percentage was the fourth-best in the league and her .652 slugging percentage and 1.083 on-base plus slugging were second. Costello also stole seven bases in nine tries. Not surprisingly, Costello was given a spot on the 2023 All-CAA First Team.

Costello played plenty of both corner outfield positions in 2023 after playing mostly right field as a freshman. She was almost spotless, making several diving catches along the way and committing only one error in 76 chances.

“She was outstanding,” Bryant said. “She really came into her own mentally, physically and emotionally. She got better on both sides of the ball. She’ll hit for power, hit for average, steal a bag, drop a bunt. She’s really a five-tool player.”

Sharing the outfield with Costello was center fielder Alicia Orosco, who started all 56 games and batted leadoff all year for the Seawolves. Orosco batted .346, narrowly missing the conference’s top 10. She posted a .392 on-base percentage and led the team with nine stolen bases in 11 attempts. She was one of the CAA’s most effective table-setters and finished eighth in the conference with 34 runs scored.

Orosco credits her breakout season to her self-awareness as a player.

“I was just a lot more confident,” Orosco said. “This is my third season, and I felt like I know how to get the job done, I’m good at what I do, and I had to be very confident in that aspect. I think it just really helped.”

For the second-straight year, Badger was an instrumental part in what Stony Brook did offensively. She had a down year statistically, but still slugged 14 home runs to lead the team. In the conference leaderboards, only Hofstra third baseman Meghan Giordano hit more homers than Badger. Her 33 RBIs were the second-most on the team and the sixth-most in the CAA, while her 33 runs scored placed her third in Stony Brook’s lineup and ninth in the conference.

Even in what was a down season, Badger still slashed .263/.396/.551. Her slugging percentage was the eighth-best in the CAA while her .947 on-base plus slugging ranked seventh.

Another powerful bat from the middle of the Seawolves’ order was right fielder Catherine Anne Kupinski, whose .522 slugging percentage ranked 10th in the conference. She smacked eight doubles and eight home runs en route to collecting 28 RBIs. After starting the season just 1-for-22 with a home run, Kupinski lost her starting job. However, she regained it by batting .316 over the rest of the season, finishing with a .272 average and a .338 on-base percentage.

Kupinski still does not have an exact diagnosis for her early-season slump, but she got herself out of it by staying focused.

“I’m not sure if I was nervous,” Kupinski said. “I was batting third in the lineup at the time, and I don’t know if I wasn’t expecting that or whatever my initial reaction was. But even though the preseason was a little tough, I knew it wasn’t going to be that way for the whole season. I just had to remind myself that athletes go through these things. I told myself ‘It’ll pass,’ and it did.”

In the infield, Stony Brook’s bats were solid as well. First baseman Ashley Jacobson had a good year, batting .280 with eight home runs and 29 RBIs.

In the middle infield, the Seawolves had a revolving door that was caused by injury. Shortstop Kyra McFarland started her season red-hot, batting .327 through the first 18 games. However, before the team could reach conference play, she broke her wrist and missed the rest of the season. Opposite McFarland was second baseman Sofia Chambers, who had a down year after a solid 2022. Chambers batted just .239, but did finish fourth on the team in doubles (six) and third in walks (12). She missed several weeks early in the season and only played 42 games this year.

Freshman middle infielder Naiah Ackerman filled in for both Chambers and McFarland while they were out. With Chambers on the sideline, Ackerman started at second base. After McFarland went down, Ackerman finished the season as Stony Brook’s regular shortstop. She struggled in her first season, batting just .208. However, she did drive in 18 runs, placing her in the top five amongst CAA rookies. That earned her a selection to the 2023 CAA All-Rookie Team.

Stony Brook had a very good bench, too. Left fielder and designated player Julianna Sanzone came back from injury this year and batted .272 with a .350 on-base percentage as a platoon player this year. Corner outfielder Shauna Nuss played in 42 games in 2023 and batted .288. Nuss was often used as a pinch runner and went 5-for-5 in stolen base attempts. She also scored the fourth-most runs on the team with 23.

Also coming off the bench was catcher Emily Reinstein, who batted .294 and slugged .510 in 51 at-bats. Freshman shortstop Hailey Guerrero also had some good moments, going 8-for-23 (.348) with three extra-base hits and five RBIs.

The Seawolves also got the job done with the leather, as their .964 team fielding percentage ranked second in the CAA, only trailing Delaware. That type of defense was needed, as their new pitching staff was a 180-degree turnaround from the 2022 team.

Without starting pitchers Dawn Bodrug and Shelbi Denman, who graduated in 2022, Stony Brook relied on starting pitchers Mia Haynes and Ashton Melaas. Bodrug broke the program’s single-season strikeout record in 2022, while Denman struck out almost a batter per inning, meaning that the Seawolves were going to see a lot more balls put in play against them this year.

Pitching in front of a good defense paid wonders for Haynes, who transferred to Stony Brook after playing for two seasons with Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE). Throughout the year, Haynes steadily improved and wound up becoming the team’s clear-cut ace by the postseason.

Though she only averaged 3.9 strikeouts per seven innings, Haynes pitched to a 3.11 ERA, which was the ninth-best figure in the CAA. She was a workhorse for her team, as she led the conference with 184 ⅔ innings pitched. Her 18 complete games co-led the league, while her six complete game shutouts were second to only Delaware starting pitcher Emily Winburn.

Though it was her first year with the Seawolves, Haynes did not back down from the challenge of being their ace.

“I’ve always wanted the ball; I like pitching,” Haynes said. “Anywhere I could help my team … that’s exactly where I wanted to be. It was stressful a little bit. But I knew that I could handle the pressure, and I wanted the pressure on me. I wanted to be the one to do it, so I was happy that I was put into that situation.”

Haynes hit her stride at about the same time as the rest of the team. Her performance down the stretch — and specifically in the postseason — was a big reason why Stony Brook was able to contend for a championship. In the CAA tournament alone, Haynes chucked a record-breaking 36 ⅓ innings and pitched to a 1.54 ERA. She pitched four complete games, including an eight-inning effort against Elon and a shutout against Delaware.

Haynes’ attributes her performance in the playoffs to her determination.

“I don’t like to lose,” Haynes said. “I know my team didn’t want to lose either … and it pushed me. Even when I didn’t feel my best, I knew they wanted it just as bad as I did, so I knew I had to step up.”

Outside of Haynes, the pitching staff was boom or bust. Melaas was up and down, and actually finished with a better WHIP (1.34) than Haynes (1.59). She also posted a lower batting average against (.274) than Haynes did (.284). Melaas also pitched the sixth-most innings in the conference with 151 ⅔. However, her 3.97 ERA was 11th-lowest amongst the 30 qualified leaders in the CAA. Stony Brook also had younger pitchers in Maddie Male and Amanda Flynn, but both struggled in their opportunities. Male wound up suffering a season-ending back injury, which was the same ailment that kept her sidelined for all of last year as well.

Fortunately for Stony Brook, the majority of the corps will remain intact. Badger, Melaas and starting third baseman Brooke Dye are all returning for their fifth years of eligibility. However, Bryant has confirmed that Nuss, who graduated, will not return for another year. Bryant also confirmed that Jacobson and Guerrero are both in the transfer portal.

As of today, Bryant feels as though there are potential replacements for them on the roster, but they may go scouting through the transfer portal anyway.

Matt Howlin, Kevin Yu and Nayden Villorente also contributed reporting.

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About the Contributor
Mike Anderson
Mike Anderson, Sports Editor
Mike Anderson is the Sports Editor at The Statesman. He is a senior majoring in journalism with aspirations of becoming a sports journalist. His love of sports comes from his time spent as a baseball player. As a reporter for The Statesman, he has covered baseball, softball, football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, men's and women's lacrosse, women's volleyball and hockey. He has also interned at Axcess Sports as a high school and college baseball and softball reporter. He is a local product from Port Jefferson, N.Y. and is a diehard Mets, Jets, Nets and Islanders fan.
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