After making history in 2022, Hofstra baseball is aiming for an encore this spring.
Despite being picked to finish last in the nine-team Colonial Athletic Association last spring, Hofstra reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history after capturing the conference title with four straight wins in the double-elimination tournament on Memorial Day weekend.
“There is motivation to get back there,” said second-year Hofstra head coach Frank Catalanotto, who had a 14-year Major League Baseball career from 1997 to 2010 with the Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, Milwaukee Brewers and New York Mets. “All you have to do is get into the CAA Tournament and anything can happen.”
Hofstra found itself in an early hole this season trying to qualify for the six-team CAA playoffs after dropping four of its first five conference games and were staring at a 1-5 start before rallying for a 4-3 win against William & Mary on March 19 after trailing 3-0. The Pride entered the week at 3-6 in the CAA after winning one of three at CAA newcomer North Carolina A&T.
In between the William & Mary and NC A&T matchups, Hofstra split two non-league games at then 24th-ranked West Virginia. The Pride’s 4-2 win over the Mountaineers on March 21 marked the program’s first victory over a top 25 opponent since defeating 14th-ranked Miami 5-0 in 2011.
“We have started to play better,” Catalanotto said. “We have a confident team that believes we are better than we have shown.”
Wantagh native Anthony D’Onofrio has been a big catalyst behind Hofstra’s recent turnaround with a pinch hit two-run double in the bottom of seventh inning that tied the game in the William & Mary comeback. D’Onofrio, a graduate student center fielder, hit a leadoff homer in last year’s CAA finals clinching win.
“Having his presence in the lineup and around the team has been great,” said Catalanotto of D’Onofrio, who was a three-time All-New York State selection at Wantagh. “He is a hard-nosed baseball player.”
The Pride lineup features four starters batting above .300 in Dylan Palmer, Will Kennedy, Brian Morrell, Santino Ross, Kevin Bruggeman and Ryan Morash. Junior catcher Matt Pelcher, a Merick native and graduate of Florida’s ING Academy, is getting increased playing time this season and registered a hit in the March 19 William & Mary comeback win.
The Hofstra pitching staff features plenty of experience led by graduate student Brad Camarda, a reigning First-Team All-CAA selection who was 8-2 with 76 strikeouts last year. The Dix Hills native tossed seven strong innings in Hofstra’s 5-3 victory in the series finale with NC A&T.
The Pride pitching staff also includes junior Danny Kelleher, a former standout baseball and soccer goalie at South Side High School in Rockville Centre. Kelleher has shown potential at times, recording four scoreless innings out of the bullpen in an 11-4 win against Manhattan on March 16.
“He’s had some good games and some not so good games,” said Catalanotto of the 6-foot-4 Kelleher. “He’s the type of player who you kind of know early on where he is going to be on or off.”
Hofstra entered late March in ninth place in the CAA standings, but still has 21 remaining league games to right the ship and earn one of the six available conference playoff spots. The double elimination CAA Tournament is scheduled for May 24-27 in Mount Pleasant, S.C.
Hofstra is next in action this weekend at home for a Battle of Long Island three-game series against CAA newcomer Stony Brook beginning Friday at 2 p.m. The Pride will also host conference games on April 14-16 against Towson, April 28-30 versus North Carolina-Wilmington before concluding its regular season schedule with Elon with a doubleheader on May 20.