MONDAY UPDATE: Canisius is heading to North Carolina, where it will face the No. 1 overall seed Tar Heels.
By Keith McShea
The Canisius College baseball team achieved program firsts Sunday afternoon when it won the program's Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship to also earn its first trip to the NCAA Tournament.
They did it in walk-off style, but it sure was not your typical game-winning situation.
Junior Jose Torralba was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to give Canisius a 12-11 victory over Siena before 517 at Arm & Hammer Stadium in Trenton, N.J.
"Getting hit with that pitch," Torralba said, "never felt better."
By winning the MAAC championship, Canisius earns a trip to the NCAA Division I baseball tournament. See here for the conference-by-conference list of automatic bids.
Canisius will learn which of 16 NCAA regional sites it will head to at noon Monday, when the NCAA baseball selection show is aired on ESPNU. In the 64-team tournament, four teams are placed at each regional, and double-elimination tournament determines which teams advance to the Super Regional round.
"This is truly a very resilient group," said ninth-year Canisius coach McRae. "They’ve been through their ups and downs all season. With this group of guys and the way our season's gone, there couldn’t have been a better ending.
"It's overwhelming. It's a ton of emotions rolled into one. To think ... of how bad the program was when we inheritied it to take it where it is today, I couldn't be happier for everybody: from the first recruiting class to the guys who are here right now. It's an awesome experience for everybody."
Canisius' victory, which gave it a 42-15 overall record, gave it the most wins are the most in school and MAAC history. The Griffs bested the previous records held by the 2008 Canisius and the 2002 Marist teams.
Sophomore Jesse Puscheck, a North Tonawanda grad, was named the MAAC Championship MVP after going 4 for 11 with seven RBIs and five runs in two games, highlighted by his grand slam in the Griffs’ win over Rider Saturday afternoon and his two-run homer in the championship game.
Canisius entered Sunday with two chances to win the title. The Griffs, who were making their seventh consecutive appearance in the MAAC championship tournament and eighth overall, won its first two games to come out of the winner's bracket in the double-elimination tournament. Siena had lost once, and if the Saints had won, the teams would have played again.
The Griffs had led the entire game, and had an 11-9 lead with two outs in the ninth inning. However, Siena tied it when senior Larry Balkwell ripped a two-run homer over the fence in left center.
"The guys were still focused in the dugout, they knew darn well that we had to keep fighing to the bitter end," said McRae. "They were ready to come back and fight and try and get the walk-off win."
In the bottom of the ninth, Coppinger walked but Siena got two quick outs on a double play.
Senior Brooklyn Foster then drew a walk, and a single by sophomore Connor Panas but runners at first and third. Puscheck was intentionally walked to load the bases.
Torralba, who went 3 for 4 with three RBIs and three runs, took Brantley’s 3-2 offering off his helmet.
"I was ready for any situation to end the game right there," said Torralba, who is one of 13 Canadians on the team; McRae also hails from Canada.
"I was pretty confident in that at-bat that we were ready to end the game," said Torralba. "They started something with two outs, so I was confident our team could. Luckily we got some walks at the end. This group is a hard working group and I think we deserved it."
Canisius started strong, building a 5-0 lead after three innings -- Puscheck's two-run homer came in the third -- and it was up, 10-3 after six.
Newfane native Rohn Pierce, a junior, started and went six innings before being pulled after walking the leadoff batter in the seventh. Pierce allowing four runs on eight hits while walking four and striking out five.
Canisius would use a total of four pitchers in the seventh as Siena scored six runs to make it a 10-9 game. Canisius added a run in the bottom of the seventh when sophomore Connor Panas' two-out RBI single scored junior Jimmy Luppens.
Joining Puscheck on the MAAC All-Tournament Team were Foster, junior shortstop Ronnie Burnick and junior starter Garrett Cortright (Frontier), who tossed a one-hitter Thursday in Canisius’ first-round, 2-1 win over Marist.
Other Western New York natives on the team are: sophomore pitchers RC Hubbard (Lake Shore) and Eric Stolzenburg (Williamsville East), senior pitcher Scott Whitehead (Kenmore East), junior pitcher Scott Tolsma (Tonawanda), freshman catcher Richard Hopcia (Alden), senior outfielder Chris Gruarin (Niagara-Wheatfield) and junior outfielder Jesse Kelso (East Aurora).
Here are Canisius College highlights and postgame interviews:
taggedMetro Atlantic Athletic Conference