Baseball star Justin Stone is making a comeback

Sophomore Justin Stone is ready for a breakout year after suffering an injury last season.

Brett Johnson, Herald Reporter

The bleachers were packed and fans lined the stone wall around Paolino Field on April 9, 2017 to see the Roger Williams University baseball team take on Eastern Connecticut State University.

Freshman Justin Stone walked to lead-off the bottom of the first inning for the Hawks and took a chance on second base with freshman Ryan McDermott at the plate. Stone was called out and tried to shake some discomfort from his right hand as he jogged back to the dugout.

In the 10-1 win, Stone struck out twice but hit a two-RBI triple in the eighth inning. Something still didn’t feel right. A few days later, he took a trip to the doctor who confirmed a fractured right thumb. Stone’s impressive rookie season was over.

“It hurt so bad,” Stone said, now a sophomore. “It was just a little fracture and it ended the rest of my season.”

In 23 games before the injury, Stone had started all but one of those games in right field. He hit a team-leading .371, two home runs, and finished with a .557 slugging percentage. Despite missing the last portion of the season, the voting committee decided his shortened season was enough to name him to the All-Commonwealth Coast Conference Third Team.

“I was pretty surprised that I got the votes for it,” Stone said. “I didn’t really expect anything… I felt honored.”

Stone began his baseball career at the age of five with his dad as his coach during the early years. He played for AAU teams, Northbridge American Legion during the summers, and Blackstone-Millville Regional High School. His freshman year of high school was when baseball became serious for Stone. He caught people’s attention by hitting .460 that year and from then on racked up various awards during his four years including the Dual Valley Conference MVP award, two-time DVC All-Star First Team, one-time DVC All-Star Second Team, and CMASS Super Team. He knew he could play at the collegiate level.

Stone’s Legion team coach and at-the-time RWU interim Head Coach, Dan Briand, introduced Stone to the school and encouraged him to attend.

“When I came here to visit I was like, ‘Wow, I love the campus.’ That’s what ultimately made me come here and play baseball,” Stone said.

Even though Stone was a shortstop throughout high school, he was willing to learn a new position, right field, to play college ball.

“It was tough to get used to, but I’m kind of fast, so it was easier for me to get thrown out there,” Stone said. “I’m getting better at the reads [off the bat] so it’s coming along.”

Stone went 1-for-3 in his first college game, but found the rhythm of the game pretty quickly and made an impact on the team almost instantly.

“Stoney was awesome for us last year,” Head Coach Jason Tower said. “He’s a really athletic kid that plays hard all the time — a very, very talented player.”

The fear of a “sophomore slump” is in the back of Stone’s head, but he’s not dwelling on the thought too much. While his .220 batting average so far this season isn’t exactly where he wants it to be, he’s making up for it in other areas. Stone hit his first homer of the season during their spring break trip and swiped three bags.

“Hopefully, I’ll heat up soon and find some gaps,” Stone said.

In addition to leading the team in stat categories, Stone is finding himself filling a leadership role, even as a sophomore. He realizes that his actions show the 19 freshmen on the team what is acceptable and what is not. He also tries to keep everyone positive with their head in the game through all nine innings, which will help them piece together wins.

“Stoney fully encompasses what it means to be a competitor and an athlete,” said fellow outfielder Eli Camner, a junior. “He not only lives through the grind, but completely embraces it. He is a committed and hardworking teammate that is continuously motivating me to have fun and play the game the right way.”

Stone wants to reassure RWU baseball fans that their 2-8 record from their spring break trip is nothing to worry about. He noticed the competition was fierce since they played some of the top teams in Division III, but felt the Hawks battled throughout the games.

“I think the teams we played down there were a lot better than [the regular season schedule], so I think we’ll be able to figure it out and we won’t have as much trouble.”