Hofstra baseball is making waves well beyond Long Island early in 2018.
The Pride entered the second week of March leading the nation in earned run average at 1.69 following eight straight wins that included three shutouts. The hot start also included Hofstra’s first two no-hitters in program history, with the first coming Feb. 24 by red-shirt sophomore Seamus Brazill, who then two weeks later combined with junior John Rooney for another hitless game in an 11-0 victory versus Mount St. Mary’s.
“It is a validation of the hard work and experience this pitching staff has gained the last two years,” said seventh-year Hofstra coach John Russo. “This didn’t just happen overnight.”
Cillis is part of a strong Hofstra pitching staff that includes Brazill, Rooney, Chris Weiss and brothers Matt and Rob Weissheier, both Valley Stream natives and Kellenberg Memorial High School graduates. Russo said third-year pitching coach John Hayban, a former 17-year Major League baseball veteran, has been instrumental with the Pride’s improvement on the mound.
“Right when he walked through that door he had instant respect,” said Russo of Hayban, a former longtime head coach St. John’s the Baptist High School in West Islip who pitched four years with the New York Yankees in the early 1990s. “Now in year three we are seeing what a great coach he is.”
Hofstra returned 21 players from last season’s frustrating 14-37 campaign that saw the Pride miss out on the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament for the fifth straight year. With a slew of returners that includes reining All-CAA player Teddy Cillis, Russo has high hopes that the Pride can carry a hot start into conference play. “Last year we lost a lot of close games,” Russo said. “The team is learning to win now.”
While pitching is Hofstra’s strength, the Pride also boast some offensive threats led by junior catcher Vito Friscia, who is hit .438 through the first 13 games. The Valley Stream Central High School product hit a walk-off home run in Hofstra’s 9-8 extra innings win against Albany to extend the Pride’s winning streak to nine.
“Vito is giving our offense a lot of confidence early on,” said Russo of his third-year starting catcher.
Sophomore first baseman Rob Weissheier, another Valley Stream native who played his high school baseball at Kellenberg Memorial, was second on the team in hitting through the first 10 games with a .379 average and one home run. Senior second baseman Mikey Riesner, a preseason All-CAA pick, had a .359 average early on following an injury-shorted 2017 season. Russo said the Pride bats are benefiting from the presence of new hitting coach Matt Wessinger, a former All-American at St. John’s who was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft.
“He has been a big addition to the team,” said Russo of Wessinger, who played for the Long Island Ducks in 2016. “He’s been great for us from the minute he walked through that door.”
Wantagh High School graduate Jimmy Joyce is among 13 newcomers. The 6-2 pitcher won New York State Class A Player of the Year honors as a junior at Wantagh and is expected to take on important innings for the Pride out of the bullpen in his first season.
“We think very highly of Jimmy,” said Russo of the former Wantagh stat, who led the Warriors to the 2016 Class A state championship. “He was one of our biggest recruits on Long Island.”
Hofstra (9-4) opens CAA play this weekend with three games at preseason favorite UNC-Wilmington, a team earlier this season defeated then sixth-ranked North Carolina. The Pride’s first home conference game is slated for Friday April 6 against Delaware at 3 p.m. Hofstra was picked to finish eight in the preseason coaches’ poll.
“Our conference is no joke,” said Russo, whose team must finish in the top six to reach the CAA Tournament where it would then have a chance to claim the league’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. “There is never an easy weekend in the CAA.”