(Photos courtesy of Gabriella Sun)
For the second time in as many weekends, the baseball team traveled to New England to take on one of the northeast’s strongest teams. Over the Easter break, the Bears matched up with Deerfield Academy, the #9 team in New England, and came away with a resounding 13-1 win. What the Bears accomplished yesterday was on another plane entirely.
Phillips Academy Andover is perennially one of the strongest baseball programs in the northeast, having won 11 Central New England Prep Championships since 1995. As recently as last season, they were ranked #25 in the entire nation and began the 2022 campaign as the #16 team in the Northeast Region, according to Perfect Game. This year, the squad is led by a 6′ 3″ lefty fireballer with a 95 mph missile by the name of Thomas White. The junior is currently listed as the #3 ranked player in the entire 2023 class and its highest-ranked pitcher. On April 1, White committed to Vanderbilt University, one of the nation’s elite programs, but some experts think the Commodores may never see him throw a pitch after he enters next June’s Major League Baseball Draft as the potential #1 overall pick. In fact, while the Bears and Big Blue were embroiled in yesterday’s battle at Andover’s Phelps Park, the Boston Globe published an article on White, lauding him as a “can’t miss prospect” and a “generational” talent. Two major league scouts, radar guns in hand, were poised behind the backstop to see the ace up close. But the Bears were not awed at the prospect of facing White, and instead handed him his first career loss while securing one of the biggest victories in the 100-year history of Stony Brook Athletics.
The Bears managed only a walk in the 1st inning, but showed their grit by forcing White to use 20 pitches to earn the three outs. Jojo Franco was just as sharp in the bottom of the 1st, sitting Andover down in order with a pair of infield pop-ups and a fly out to right field. The Bears struck first in the top of the 2nd when Seth Laureano worked a leadoff walk on a full count before Franco hammered a double to center on the very next pitch. With two runners in scoring position, White showed why he is the nation’s premier hurler by striking out the next three batters, but not before the Bears brought the eventual winning run across the plate. With Alex Baaden locked in a 2-2 count and two outs on the board, Laureano attempted one of the most dynamic plays in baseball by taking off for home. The move startled White, forcing him to balk, giving the Brook a 1-0 edge.
In the 2nd, Franco used a ground out and a strikeout to sit down the first two batters before erasing the Big Blue’s two-out single on a pick-off at second base. The Bears went down in order in the 3rd, but Franco continued to match Andover’s ace by using just four pitches to register a ground out and a pair of pop-ups in his half. The pitcher’s duel continued in the 4th and 5th as each team managed only a single baserunner against the two aces.
In the top of the 6th, White gave way to reliever Harrison Milbert after 80 pitches, and Sebastian Perez welcomed him to the game with a leadoff triple to center. Jayden Stroman, who poetically chose Stony Brook over Andover two years ago, followed with a single to give the Brook a 2-0 edge before Milbert retired the next three Blue & White hitters. In the 6th, Franco continued his dominance by working around a one-out walk with a pair of ground outs as the taut affair moved to the 7th.
In the top of the 7th, Franco worked a one-out walk, but a pair of pop-ups ended the Bear threat as the game moved to the last of the 7th with Franco digging into the mound for one last tango. He started the inning with a pop-up, his sixth on the afternoon, before yielding a single that brought the tying run to the plate. With the tension at its zenith, Franco needed just one more pitch to close his finest pitching performance when Luke Gallo’s screaming line drive found the glove of Jadden Rodriguez, who then doubled the runner off of first for the final outs. Franco finished his heroic performance by yielding just 3 hits over 7 shutout innings.
In a century of Stony Brook baseball, this win ranks among the best of Blue & White lore. Over the last five years, the Bears have sought to emerge as one of the finest programs in New York. In 2018 they returned to the postseason for the first time since 1999. The following year, they went undefeated and won their first championship in 20 years. In 2020, they became independent and were poised to make a splash on the national stage at a major tournament in Georgia before the pandemic ended those dreams. In 2021, with most schools playing truncated league seasons, the Bears were able to scrape together only a handful of scrimmages. Yesterday’s victory is the coming out party the Bears have been waiting for, but few outside the program knew was possible. Now everyone knows that the Bears are here.
The Brook returns to the field on Tuesday in a home match-up with LuHi.