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Mike Burke sets modern strikeout mark as UB advances to MAC semifinals

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by Amy Moritz

A sparkling performance from Mike Burke on the mound lifted the University at Buffalo to the Mid-American Conference semifinal round.

Burke threw a complete-game shutout as the Bulls defeated Miami (Ohio) 4-0 at All Pro Freight Stadium in Avon, Ohio Friday afternoon.

The Bulls (26-25) will face Akron at 9:30 Saturday needing to win twice in the double elimination tournament to bounce the Zips and move on to the championship round.

Burke scattered seven hits and striking out four to give him the program's modern era record of 78 strikeouts in a season. He threw 102 pitches, 75 of them for strikes in an effective outing.

But then again, Burke has played well in elimination games for the Bulls. The senior from Cleveland is 3-0 in MAC tournament games allowing just two earned runs in 26 innings pitched. All three wins were in elimination games.

Last year he threw eight shutout innings against Northern Illinois while in 2012 he gave up two runs in eight innings to Western Michigan. 

The Bulls rode the strength of Burke's arm, nursing a 1-0 lead it took in the first inning on a sacrifice fly from Tyler Mautner.

In the eighth, Matt Pollock had an RBI double and scored on an error by the Miami third baseman.

The Bulls added one more in the ninth on an RBI single from Brian Dudek.

UB baseball knocks off divisional champs to win first MAC tournament opener

News Staff Report

The University at Buffalo baseball program won its Mid-American Conference tournament opener for the first time Wednesday morning in the opening game of this year's tournament at All Pro Freight Stadium in Avon, Ohio. 

Sixth-seeded UB (25-24) knocked off third-seeded Miami (Ohio), 6-5, thanks to 15 hits against a Miami team (29-26) which won the MAC East title in the regular season. It is the first time in three attempts that UB has won its MAC opener.

Senior Kevin Hughes, a Starpoint graduate, pitched into the ninth to earn his fifth win. Hughes, a sixth-year senior, struck out six and walked one during a 126-pitch effort.

All nine UB batters had at least one hit, with senior Mike Burke going 3-for-5 and senior Thomas Richards, sophomore Kyle Brennan and freshman Brian Dudek (St. Mary's/Lanc.) each adding two. The lower part of the UB lineup (Nos. 5-9) had 10 of the team's 15 hits.

UB advances in the winner's bracket of the double-elimination tournament and will play at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.

The Bulls' opponent will be either second-seeded Central Michigan (Bulls were 1-2 against the Chippewas in the regular season) or seventh-seeded Akron (Bulls swept the Zips, 3-0). CMU and Akron play at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

UB rebounded from Miami's two-run first inning to take a 5-2 lead through 4-1/2 innings against Miami left-hander Seth Varner, who earned conference Pitcher of the Year honors after striking out 111 batters in 97.1 innings and notching seven wins in the regular season.

Varner struck out the side in the first, but UB tied the game on RBI singles by senior Jimmy Topps and sophomore Nick Sinay in the second. In the third, a bases-loaded chopper by senior Mike Scarcello (Bishop Timon-St. Jude) drove in two for a 4-2 lead. Brennan added a home run, his second of the season, over the left field fence in the fifth for UB's 5-2 lead.  

Miami cut the lead to 5-4 in the bottom of the fifth and UB would take that lead to the ninth. 

UB got a key insurance run for a 6-4 lead when sophomore Tyler Mautner doubled with one out and was driven in on a two-out single by Richards.

Miami cut the lead to one on a sacrifice fly against redshirt freshman Mike Kaelin (Maryvale), who relieved Hughes with one out. With the tying run on base, Kaelin got a fly ball to end the game.

Licata played with a torn hip labrum

By Rodney McKissic

UB junior Joe Licata played all of last season with a torn hip labrum and a bone impingement the quarterback confirmed on Wednesday.

The Williamsville South product who started all 13 games in 2013, said he suffered the injury during training camp last summer in early August. Licata will be limited for spring practice which started today at the Buffalo Bills Fieldhouse and will miss the annual Blue/White Game on April 19.

Licata had surgery on Jan. 7.

“I went into the training room and thought it was a groin injury maybe or a hip flexor,” said Licata, who is nearly month three of the 4-6 month recovery process. “It didn’t get any better and it kept getting worse. I took a couple of helmet hits to the hip.”

A month after the injury, UB’s trainers realized it wasn’t a hip flexor but a hip labrum injury. Doctors confirmed the diagnoses after the Bulls bowl game loss to San Diego State and Licata underwent surgery.

“It hurt but I took a couple of Advil before the game,” he said. “I iced it down afterwards and I had it wrapped during games. It was wrapped for practices. I was smart about it. It’s the price you pay for touchdowns.”

UB coach Jeff Quinn said he isn’t worried about Licata missing spring workouts.

“He certainly has a sharp mind and has a handle on the offense,” Quinn said. “Joe is still going to be the guy that we develop into being an even better quarterback than he was a year ago.”

Licata was limited to sideline work as were fullback Boomer Brock and right guard Dillon Guy, a pair of seniors, sophomore offensive lineman Dan Collura and defensive linemen Zach Smekal and tailback Joe Schillace, who are redshirt freshmen.

Also, junior linebacker Nick Gilbo left practice with an apparent injury to his left knee which was wrapped heavily in ice.

****

Junior Tony Daniel took snaps with the first unit while sophomore Collin Michael was with the second team.

“We were a little bit off with our timing but that’s part of this,” Quinn said. “Spring ball is about repetition and repetition is the mother of learning and I think our kids are only going to get better.”

Licata liked what he saw from the sidelines.

“They looked good, it’s a great opportunity for them to get more reps during the spring,” he said. “It’s weird to watch the backside of it, but I get to help coach those guys up and I think Tony did a great job today as did Collin.”

****
Early enrollees Juwan Jackson and offense lineman Matt Murphy participated in practice on Wednesday. Jackson is a 6-foot4, 215-pound linebacker from Newark N.J., while the 6-7, 295-pound Murphy hails from London, England. Both players enrolled in January.  … The Bulls are off tomorrow but will resume practice on Friday at UB Stadium.

Licata will be limited in spring drills

By Rodney McKissic

UB junior quarterback Joe Licata will be limited during spring practice as he recovers from offseason hip surgery, coach Jeff Quinn said today. Spring practice begins Wednesday.

Licata, who started all 13 games last season, had hip surgery in January and was expected to be out until June. It is unclear whether Licata will play in the annual Blue/White game April 19.

Licata, who starred at Williamsville South, threw for 2,824 yards and 24 touchdowns while completing 58 percent of his passes as a sophomore.

“He’s not going to be out there full bore,” Quinn said. “He’s fine, it’s just a matter of time but he’s done very well.”

Junior Tony Daniel will take the majority of the snaps in spring drills and will be backed up by sophomore Collin Michael and redshirt freshman Craig Slowik.

The only other player who will be limited in the spring will be senior fullback Boomer Brock (knee). Also, Quinn confirmed tailback James Potts is no longer enrolled in school and will not return to the team. Quinn wouldn’t go in specifics, but a source told The News Potts was academically ineligible.

While the Bulls have good depth at tailback, they have suffered numerous injures over the years at the position and Potts provided insurance. He appeared in nine games as a backup to Bo Oliver and Anthone Taylor last season and rushed for 222 yards on 58 carries.

WMU's Brown Battles Injury

By Bob DiCesare

Western Michigan guard David Brown, a first-team all-MAC selection, played the second half of a 77-53 loss to Syracuse with a pronounced limp after banging knees late in the first half.

Brown went just 2 of 12 from the field in the game, including 2 of 10 from behind the arc. Without his long-range shooting WMU had no antidote for Syracuse's 2-3 zone.

Brown said he was told "it was terrible where the place I got hit at because that's where all the impact is from you jumping and cutting. Where I got hit at is right where, everything I wanted to do, I couldn't barely do."

Although listed as a senior, Brown could petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility because he underwent two major knee surgeries in his career.

"We feel like both of his redshirt years were due to injury and he was under the number of games that you can be under," said coach Steve Hawkins. "We'd have to petition the NCAA for the sixth year. There is precedent.

"If he has a chance to make some money playing this game, we hae to look at that too," Hawkins said. "Basically it comes down to we owe David. Whatever is in David's best interest is what we have to concentrate on."

Hawkins on 'Cuse zone, MAC

By Bob DiCesare

Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins and his team saw a version of the Syracuse zone twice this season, when the Broncos played Mid-American Conference rival Eastern Michigan. The Eagles are coached by former Syracuse assistant Rob Murphy and have employed the defense since his arrival.

Here's what Hawkins had to say about the EMU zone vs. the Syracuse zone the Broncos will face Thursday.

"The zone is very similar. You know, we hope it's a help, but the zone is very similar. The players are different. Now, Murph has done a terrific job of bringing in" players "very similar to coach Boeheim. He recruits to that defense, recruits to that zone. They actually at times could be as big as Syracuse.

"The difference with Syracuse is, when Eastern Michigan went to the bench they're bringing in a 6-5 guy. When Syracuse goes to the bench, they bring in a 6-7 guy, then they'll bring in a 6-10 guy, then they'll bring in a guy that's 8-foot tall. It seems like its never-ending. It's just an onslaught of size and length and length and length and more length."

Hawkins also was asked about the perceived lack of respect the MAC was granted in the postseason process. WMU was dealt a 14 seed although the MAC was ranked 12th among conference and Toledo, although in the 30s in RPI, received a No. 6 seed in the NIT.

"I've understood a lower seed in some other years," Hawkins said. "This year, with the conference RPI being 12, I thought that Toledo, in particular, deserved more credit than what they were receiving all year long.

"Their RPI was very high all year long. They played a good nonconference schedule. They ended up winning whatever it was, 26, 27 games, and they were never mentioned in terms of a potential at-large team all the way through the year, and I never really understood that. Then to get the seed they got in the NIT, I was discouraged by that. Happy with the number of teams that got in total postseason play but a little discouraged with the seeding that went on there."

WMU's No. 14 seed was less discouraging.

"We knew we were going to be a little bit lower because of our nonconference RPI," Hawkins said. "This things is all about matchups. You can get a 12 seed or an 11 seed and play against a team that would be a worse matchup for you than some of the team that are getting a 13, 14 15 seed that may be a better matchup for you."

McCrea Voted MAC POY

By Bob DiCesare

It’s no secret there was deep disappointment in the Javon McCrea camp when UB’s star forward failed to capture the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year award as a junior. But by the end of his senior season there wasn’t much in the way of debate. McCrea today was named the conference’s top performer by an overwhelming margin in a vote of media members who cover the league.

McCrea, a native of Newark in central New York, received 20 of a possible 25 votes to outdistance Western Michigan guard David Brown, who placed second with three. WMU center Shayne Whittington and Toledo point guard Julius Brown each received a vote.

Steve Hawkins, who guided Western Michigan to the regular-season title and the top seed in this week’s MAC Tournament, was voted Coach of the Year, also by a substantial margin. Hawkins received 16 votes to four of Northern Illinois coach Mark Montgomery. Toledo’s Tod Kowalcyzk was next with three votes followed by UB’s Bobby Hurley with two.

McCrea became UB’s all-time scoring leader this season, a campaign during which he hit double figures in points and rebounds 15 times in the same game and in 10 of 18 conference games. He scored 25 points or more four times in the final nine regular-season games and struck for a career-high 34 points against Bowling Green on Senior Day Saturday.

“This is a very deserving honor for Javon who has meant so much to our program and to the league," Hurley said in a UB release.  "He has had a monster season and he is the most complete player in the MAC.  Playing at such a high level statistically and helping us win a MAC East Championship put him in a rare group of players that have achieved and accomplished what he has in his career and we are proud of him for that."

McCrea emerged as the leading scorer and rebounder in conference play, averaging 19.6 points and 9.6 boards. He was third in field goal percentage at 57.7 percent and, in testament to his excellent passing abilities, placed 10th in assists at 2.7 a game. 

No other active player in the nation can match McCrea’s career statistically diversity of at least 1,900 points, 900 rebounds, 200 blocks and 200 assists. McCrea is three points shy of 2,000 career and 25 rebounds away from 1,000. Among MAC players he ranks 14th al-time in scoring, 18th in rebounding and fifth in blocked shots.

As a junior McCrea averaged 18 points and 7.9 rebounds but saw the MAC POY go to Ohio guard D.J. Cooper who, like McCrea, was three-time first-team all-MAC and one of the most dominant performers in conference history. Cooper averaged 14.1 points and 7.1 assists last season and led the Bobcats to a 14-2 MAC record compared to UB’s 7-9.

UB placed third overall in the MAC this season at 13-5 and claimed an outright East Division title for the first time in school history. The Bulls open the MAC Tournament at 9 Thursday night in Cleveland with a quarterfinal game against tonight’s Eastern Michigan-Northern Illinois winner.

 McCrea is the third UB played to win MAC Player of the Year honors, joining Turner Battle (2005) and Mitchell Watt (2012). He is the second Big 4 player to win a conference POY away this season. Canisius guard Billy Baron was selected as the top player in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

MAC Embarrasses Itself

By Bob DiCesare

The Mid-American Conference named its Sixth Man of the Year today and the result is too comical to comprehend.

The award went to Akron's Jake Kretzer -- good player, I like him -- who missed the last five games of the regular season with a concussion and averaged less than 5 ppg while shooting 10 of 36 from the field in the seven games before that. So in Akron's last 12 MAC games Kretzer contributions were at best minimal.

Now contrast that with the last 12 games of UB freshman guard Shannon Evans: 129 points, 49 assists, 41 rebounds. Consider that over the entire conference schedule Evans was tied for fifth in assists while coming off the bench, fifth in assist/turnover ratio coming off the bench, 11th in steals coming off the bench, and 14th in free throw percentage. Coming off the bench.

This announcement, an embarrassment to the MAC in my book, came a day after the Bulls placed just one player -- Javon McCrea -- on the first three all-MAC teams. Josh Freelove was picked as honorable mention. Jarod Oldham, who was third in assists and second in assist/turnover ratio for the conference's No. 2 scoring offense, didn't even get a mention.

I asked UB coach Bobby Hurley about the slight's on this morning's coaches' conference call. Here's what he had to say.

"We've been pretty unselfish as a group, the guys have been," Hurley said. "We've been a real balanced team this year, sharing the basketball, leading our conference in assists. I'm not worried about our players in terms of individual honors.

"I feel with the season that we had and the level that we won at in our conference that we deserved to have at least two players on the first three teams, and that was really surprising. And I would say that Josh Freelove was deserving of consideration for third team as well as Jarod Oldam.

"It was disappointing, as was Shannon Evans not getting recognized today, sixth man or freshman of the year, because he's had a terrific year. But I guess like you said yesterday, we must be doing a heck of a job as coaches if our players aren't getting any individual awards."

The last statement was in reference to a tweet I sent out Monday: "I want my coach of the year ballot back. Now that I see how rest of MAC coaches regard UB talent gotta conclude Hurley must be COY."

The Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Freshman of the Year awards are picked by the media. The remainder falls to the coaches. I'm not going to quibble with Ball State's Zavier Turner being named the top frosh, I even voted for him, in part because Evans seemed a shoo-in for Sixth Man.

What gives? It's no secret Hurley has rubbed a lot of his peers the wrong way in his rookie season with his ultra-intense sideline manner and the fact he's constantly riding the officials. I get that. I've seen it coming. Hurley's made enemies. What's hard to comprehend is the backlash being so severe that grown men are taking it out on his players.

Kretzer over Evans is preposterous. Especially since -- get this -- Kretzer was a starter in seven of the 15 MAC games he played.

I imagine the media will take a less biased view of things and recognize McCrea as Player of the Year. But who knows? We'll find out soon.

UB, the East Division champs and No. 3 MAC Tournament seed, gets back to the court in Cleveland Thursday night against the winner of Wednesday's Eastern Michigan-Northern Illinois game. 

 

Mack on MAC: Buffalo's conference gives Khalil something to prove

By Jay Skurski

Khalil Mack doesn't want to call it a "label," but knows playing in the Mid-American Conference means people look at him differently than if he were doing his thing in the Southeastern Conference.

"No doubt. Everybody wants to know, especially from a scout's standpoint, how did I get to Buffalo?" Mack said this morning following his workout at UB's Pro Day inside the Buffalo Bills' field house. "It's nothing but a blessing, man. I'm glad I got a chance to play here throughout my college career. Seeing guys like James Starks and Naaman Roosevelt, Davonte Shannon, all these guys that instilled that greatness in this program, rubbing off on me."

A quick refresher on how Mack did arrive in Western New York: He was lightly recruited out of Westwood High School in Fort Pierce, Fla., after only playing one season of varsity football. Even though he produced 140 tackles and nine sacks in a 10-2 season, his only FBS scholarship offer came from UB because there wasn't a lot of tape on him.

With the Bulls, Mack chose No. 46 as a reminder of the ranking assigned to him in EA Sports' NCAA football game.

He was asked today whether now -- with it looking like a lock he'll be drafted in the top 10 in May -- he'll find it difficult to find such motivation.

"Not at all. I set goals for myself. I'm going to continue to work hard and get better. I don't feel like this is my final goal, in a sense. I feel like there is a lot more that I have to prove, especially coming out of the MAC conference," he said. "I feel like I've got to go out there and dominate on the next level, and I'm working hard to do that.

"I feel like it's not a label on you, but it's kind of like, 'ok, they taking it for granted.' But until they get to feel what you be coming off the edge with, and hitting them in the mouth ... that's what I'm out to prove."

Big 4 Hoops Scenarios

By Bob DiCesare

Here's where the Big 4 basketball teams stand as of 6 p.m. Saturday:

MAC

Men

UB has clinched at least a tie for the East Division title and it becomes an outright championship if Bowling Green beats Akron tonight. More importantly, the Bulls have clinched a top-four finish within the MAC overall and have earned a bye into no less than the quarterfinals in Cleveland. They can finish top 2 by winning their final two games regardless what happens in tonight's Toledo-WMU game. The Bulls are at Akron Tuesday and home to Bowling Green next Saturday.

Women

UB (9-7) has the tiebreaker advantage over Toledo (8-7) as they battle for the No. 4 seed and bye into the quarterfinals. WMU (8-8) lurks. UB has Akron (18-8, 12-3) and Kent (6-20, 3-12) at home. Toledo plays Central Michigan (18-9, 14-1) Sunday and finishes with Eastern Michigan and Ball State. If UB wins out it's in the quarters. If Toledo loses to CMU the Bulls can take probably still take the No. 4 seed with a 1-1 finish. That presumes CMU beating WMU, never a sure thing in a rivalry game.

MAAC

Men

Canisius finishes with the No. 2 seed if it wins at Manhattan Sunday AND Quinnipiac loses to Marist. The Griffs get the No. 3 seed if they beat the Jaspers AND Quinnipiac beats Marist. A loss gives Canisius the No. 4 seed  and a MAAC Tournament quarterfinal game against Siena on Friday in Springfield.

Niagara will be the No. 11 seed and face the No. 6 (either Rider, Saint Peter's or Marist) at 9 p.m. Thursday in Springfield.

Women

Canisius and Niagara are 8-11 and tied for the No. 6 seed heading into Sunday's finales. Canisius is home to fifth-pace Rider (9-10) and Niagara is home to Fairfield (14-5). If Canisius and Niagara both win there will be a three-way tie for seeds 5-7. Canisius would be 3-1 among the trio, Niagara 2-2 and Rider 1-3. If Canisius wins and Niagara loses the Griffs take the No. 5 seed based on a sweep of Rider and Niagara becomes either the No. 7 or 8 seed depending on the tiebreaker with Manhattan (8-12). If Canisius and Niagara both lose it's a three-way tie for Nos. 6-8 among Canisius, Niagara and Manhattan with Manhattan being 3-1 in the group, Niagara 2-2 and the Griffs 1-3.

ATLANTIC 10

Men

Bona is 6-9 and No. 8 in the conference and can go no higher. They can drop no lower than No. 10. La Salle (5-8) and Duquesne (4-10) also factor in. Bona finishes at VCU. La Salle was playing Fordham Saturday and still has games with George Mason and Saint Joseph's. Duquesne has UMass and George Mason.

Women

The Bonnies are done with the regular season and will be the No. 2 seed behind Dayton in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. They'll play the winner of the 7-10 game in the quarterfinals at 5 p.m. Friday in Richmond.

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About Campus Watch

Bob Dicesare

Bob DiCesare

Western New York native Bob DiCesare covers UB football, Big 4 basketball and writes an occasional column. He still holds a grudge against Chris Ford who, he's convinced, cost St. Bonaventure the 1970 NCAA basketball championship.

@TBNDicesare | bdicesare@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered colleges for The Buffalo News since 1999. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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