TRENTON, N.J. — The Canisius College baseball team achieved program firsts Sunday afternoon when it won its first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship and its first trip to the NCAA Tournament.
They did it in walk-off style, but it certainly 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.
“Getting hit with that pitch,” Torralba said, “never felt better.”
By winning the MAAC championship, Canisius earns a trip to the 64-team NCAA Division I baseball tournament. Canisius will learn which of 16 NCAA regional sites it will head to at noon today, when the NCAA baseball selection show is aired on ESPNU.
“This is truly a very resilient group,” said ninth-year Canisius coach Mike 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.”
Canisius (42-15) set school and overall conference records for most wins in a season. 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 scored in two games, highlighted by his grand slam in the Griffs’ win over Rider on 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 Tournament and eighth overall, won their 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.
In the bottom of the ninth, Ryan 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 put 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.