Clicky

Hofstra baseball earns first NCAA Tournament trip in program history

|

By Vinny Messana

Hofstra has been playing baseball since 1938. It took former Met Frank Catalanotto one year to do what has never been done in program history and that’s qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

The Pride did so in astonishing fashion — winning all four of their CAA Championship games by one run — including three wins via walk-off.

Entering the CAA tournament as the No. 2 seed, the Pride defeated Elon, UNC-Wilmington, and Northeastern twice to pull off the improbable. All three teams are regarded as top-tier opponents, and Hofstra was able run the table in the tournament amidst a hostile home crowd.

The clinching game was thrilling. The Pride has jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead thanks to back-to-back HRs by Anthony D’Onofrio and Will Kennedy, followed by an RBI double by Santino Rosso — who was the hero in the previous game with a walk-off double in the 10th inning.

Northeastern clawed back and made it a game. They tied it up, 3-3, in the fifth inning on a sac fly. Fast forward to the 9th inning and the Pride led 6-4, but Northeastern scored twice off Hofstra closer Michael O’Hanlon to tie the game. The Pride called up Zach Bailey, who transferred from Northeastern, to retire the next two batters and keep the game tied.

In the home half of the 9th, Brian Morrell (4-for-5) led off with a double to get things going. Steve Harrington was intentionally walked and Santino Rosso drew a walk to load the bases for Ryan Morash. He was hit by a pitch to bring in the winning run and send Hofstra into a frenzy. It was their first CAA Championship in program history – in fact it’s their first winning season since 2012.

It speaks volumes about the job of first year head coach Frank Catalanotto and his staff of Matt Wessinger, Chris Rojas and Jimmy Goelz. Catalanotto was hired in July 2021 after taking a year off from coaching following New York Tech’s decision to take a hiatus from NCAA athletics. The Smithtown native had led New York Tech to a historic season, including capturing the NCAA East Regional and upsetting top-ranked Southern New Hampshire in the Super Regionals to punch their ticket to the Division-II College World Series.

While that was an incredible achievement in its own right — duplicating that success in Year 1 at the Division-I level in a competitive conference like the CAA is hard to comprehend. Additionally, Hofstra won a total of 17 games last year and Catalanotto did not even have an entire summer worth of recruiting his own players.

They were able to find the right mix of players throughout the season and received some huge performances from a variety of players. For example, Brian Morrell began his career at Notre Dame University as a pitcher, transferred to St. John’s for 2021 and wound up becoming Hofstra’s most consistent hitter all season — leading the team in most offensive categories such as AVG (.352), OPS (.981), HRs (8), RBIs (39), SLG (.561) and OBP (.420).

Brad Camarda had Tommy John surgery a couple years ago and pitched only 32 innings last year. He was their workhorse — notching 91.0 IP, winning 8 games, striking out 74 batters and compiling a 3.46 ERA. Additionally, he saved his best work for when it mattered. He pitched 15 innings in the CAA Tournament, defeating Elon and Northeastern and throwing 118 pitches on 3 days rest. He told me on IG Live that the will to win trumped any body aches he was feeling and that’s been the driving force behind Hofstra’s recent surge.

Mark Faello is a cancer survivor who never allowed that to be an excuse and wound up being a reliable weekend starter for the Pride. The 2018 Diamond Award winner notched 78.1 innings and won 7 games. He is someone that cannot be counted out considering what he’s been through. Camarda and Faello have started 27 of the 51 games. The pitcher with the third most innings is closer Michael O’Hanlon. So they have clearly been able to mix-and-match just enough to get things done.

Next up is another challenge — they will attempt to keep their 9-game winning streak alive in the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional against No. 10 UNC.

As for the future of the program, the outlook is bright. As Camarda told Axcess Sports, coach Jimmy Goelz told him following the CAA Championship that “this win is huge for the program.” It evens the playing field just a bit more between them and their local peers such as Stony Brook, St. John’s, Fordham and LIU — who also made an incredible run and will face Maryland in the NCAA College Park Regional on Friday.