Canisius College’s reward for winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference baseball championship is a date with the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Golden Griffins will make their NCAA debut as the No. 4 seed in the Chapel Hill Regional and will play top-seeded North Carolina at 6 p.m. on Friday at Boshamer Stadium.
The winner will face the winner of Friday’s 1 p.m. matchup between No. 2 seed Florida Atlantic and No. 3 Towson at 6 p.m. on Saturday. The losers play at 1 p.m. Saturday in the double-elimination tournament.
The national top eight seeds are the Tar Heels (52-8), Vanderbilt (51-9), Oregon State (45-10), LSU (52-9), Cal State-Fullerton (48-8), Virginia (47-10), Florida State (44-15) and Oregon (45-14). Miami (Fla.) is in the field for the 41st consecutive year, extending its own record.
Joining Canisius as first-time participants are Bryant, Central Arkansas, Savannah State and South Dakota State.
“We’re going to embrace the opportunity and not be fearful of it,” said sophomore infielder Jesse Puscheck, the former North Tonawanda standout. “We’re going to go out there, play our game and hopefully something good happens.”
Canisius captured the MAAC title by defeating Siena, 12-11, on Sunday. The Griffs loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and junior Jose Torralba was hit by a pitch to force home the winning run.
“There’s a gazillion emotions running wild right now,” Canisius coach Mike McRae told reporters on Monday. “I couldn’t be happier for the players to get this opportunity and this experience.”
The Griffs are 42-15, setting Canisius and conference records for most wins in a season. Canisius has won 33 or more games five times in the last six seasons, the only team in the Northeast to stake that claim. Since 2008, Canisius has won 217 games and is tied for 28th nationally over that span with a .625 winning percentage.
Now Canisius faces the nation’s best team, at least in the minds of the NCAA Division I baseball tournament selection committee. There was talk that Vanderbilt should be the top seed of the 64-team tournament
“It was really a close, close call,” committee chairman Dennis Farrell told The Associated Press on Monday. “I’m not so sure I can really articulate what the determining factor was.”
The Tar Heels claimed their first Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship since 1990, and their 48 regular-season victories are a school record. They lost back-to-back series to end the regular season, but remain the only team in the country that hasn’t lost back-to-back games.
“They’re very good in all facets of the game,” McRae said. “They’re No. 1 for a reason and we’re going to have our hands full obviously.”
Carolina had to put in extra work just to win the ACC Tournament. It needed 14 innings to beat Clemson and 18 to down rival North Carolina State before winning the championship with a 4-1 triumph over Virginia Tech on Sunday.
The Heels’ .867 winning percentage tops the country.
“No one expects us to do much so we’re going to ride this out and use it as motivation,” Puscheck said. “We’re not feeling pressure right now and we’re going to work as hard as we can.”