Hofstra baseball eyes CAA tourney berth

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Hofstra baseball is seeking its first back-to-back postseason appearances this century with an almost entirely new pitching staff.

The Pride, who recorded a program-best 3.59 earned run average last year, lost nearly 75 percent of their innings pitched during a 23-23 season where Hofstra reached the Colonial Athletic Association tournament for the first time in six years and just the second time since joining the league in 2002. The biggest loss on the mound came via the Major League Baseball Draft with junior lefty ace John Rooney selected in the third round by the Los Angeles Dodgers in June. 

“I lost about 90 percent of my conference innings,” seventh-year Hofstra baseball head coach John Russo said. “I’m excited to watch a lot of new guys grow and get better.”

Fifth-year senior Michael James brought back to the most pitching experience after making 17 appearances with three starts last spring.  The Tennessee native recorded 23 strikeouts in 31 innings during the 2018 campaign.

Hofstra returns some experienced arms along with James including sophomore Brad Camarda, who tossed a four-hitter in the Pride’s 3-2 win against Incarnate Ward on Feb. 16, and senior Andrew Mundy, who missed most of the last two seasons due to injury. Red-shirt Junior Seamus Brazill is also back after throwing a no-hitter during opening weekend last season at Lamar and could take on more of a role in 2019. Former Wantagh High School standout Jimmy Joyce is also expected to take on more innings in his second season of collegiate baseball after appearing in 10 games and is also integral part of the Hofstra offense.  

“He’s one of the best athletes on the team,” Russo said of Joyce, who plays outfield when he isn’t pitching. “He can do it all.”

Freshman Ryan Rue added spark to Hofstra’s pitching and picked up his first career win with six innings of six-hit ball in a 14-9 victory against Saint Peter’s on March 2. Newcomers Mark Faello, Robert Lucano, Steven Boscia, James Cardinale, Michael Murray and Jack Jett are also capable arms for starting or relief roles.

While much of Hofstra’s pitching is new, Hofstra returned seven of nine position players led by First Team All-CAA catcher Vito Friscia, who batted .353 with seven home runs last year. The Valley Stream Central product is off to a powerful start to his senior campaign with two home runs on the young season after hitting .350 in the prestigious Cape Cod League last summer.

“Vito is one of the most prestigious players we have ever had at Hofstra,” Russo said. “He is as good a hitter as there is in the CAA.”

Hofstra’s lineup is bolstered by another Valley Stream native in junior Rob Weissheier, who drove in 31 runs as a sophomore. The Kellenberg graduate is off to a strong start this season with a .304 average through the Pride’s first 11 games and drove in two runs during Hofstra’s 10-5 upset win at Liberty on St. Patrick’s Day.

Anthony D’Onofrio is among newcomers from Hofstra’s backyard giving the Hofstra offense a jolt early. The freshman third baseman registered three hits in Hofstra’s March 2 blowout against Saint Peter’s and is quickly adjusting to the college level as a leadoff hitter after a standout career at Wantagh High School.

“I can’t be more excited with how fearless he is playing,” Russo said of D’Onofrio, who batted .557 as a senior at Wantagh with five home runs. “He is a fantastic kid.”

D’Onofrio is among multiple infielders seeing playing time early this season along with shortstop Austin Gauthier, Myles Mensah and Ryan Morash at second base and third baseman Tyler White. The outfield features Joyce, Vinnie Costello, Austin Pollack and Sean Rausch, who missed all of last year due to injury. Senior Parker Quinn is the Pride’s primary designated hitter.

Hofstra is next in action for a three-game set at defending Big East champions and NCAA Regional participant St. John’s from Friday to Sunday. The CAA schedules begins with a series at College of Charleston on March 29-31 and an April 5-7 trip to Northeastern, who received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament last season.  The Pride’s first home conference games are slated for April 12-14 versus Towson.

The Pride was picked to finish eighth in the nine-team CAA. The Blue and Gold will have to finish in the top six in order for a return CAA Tournament appearance. 

“It’s a very hard conference,” Russo said. “But on a three-day weekend we can match up with anyone.”