LAKEWOOD, N.J. — A day that began with so much hope and anticipation of a second straight trip to the Big Dance ended with the Canisius baseball team wondering “what if.”
• What if it had protected a late three-run lead in the opening game of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship series here at FirstEnergy Park against Siena?
• What if Jesse Kelso’s scorching grounder finds a hole for perhaps the championship-clinching hit instead of an infielder for a game-ending double play?
• What if it had found a way to either extend the nation’s longest winning streak to 19 games or simply win for the 19th time in 20 games?
A lot of questions and no answers to ease the Golden Griffins’ pain.
The Griffs’ season, which seemed to be destined to feature a second straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament, came to an abrupt end Sunday as the Saints staved off elimination in the first game of the championship series with a 6-5 comeback win and then punched their own ticket to the NCAAs by silencing Canisius, 5-1, in the winner-take-all final.
Siena takes a 26-31 mark into the Big Dance as it not only beat Canisius (40-16) for the fourth time in five meetings but also gained a measure of revenge for losing in last year’s MAAC final to the Griffs.
It’s unlikely Canisius, which lost both games of the championship round doubleheader for the second time in three years, will receive an at-large bid to the 64-team national tournament. Although the Griffs are ranked 29th in the nation in one poll, their Ratings Percentage Index (which carries more weight than the national polls) heading into Sunday was No. 56 in the nation.
“We always know that our season comes down to one weekend of baseball, and unfortunately for us we kind of lost our way against Siena today,” Canisius coach Mike McRae said. “You have to give credit to Siena for getting key hits, making big pitches and making great defensive plays. We had a great regular season with 40 wins and a number of players having impressive seasons, but we just couldn’t get it done today.”
In the opener, the Saints scored five times in the top of the eighth to reverse a 4-1 hole.
Canisius pulled within a run in the ninth as Ryan Coppinger’s long double plated Jose Torralba. Siena then opted to intentionally walk MAAC Player of the Year Conor Panas with one out to load the bases. Kelso, a senior, drove a sharp one-hop line drive to Vincent Citro, who started the game-ending 3-2-3 double play.
Siena scored three times in the first three innings against MAAC Pitcher of the Year Rohn Pierce to seize control of the final game. Citro scored on a throwing error in the bottom of the first. The Saints added to the lead in the third on John Rooney’s two-run double.
Canisius pulled within 3-1 in the sixth when Jimmy Luppens scored on a wild pitch after belting a lead-off double. That’s as close as the Griffs got as they stranded 11 base runners. They also left 10 in the opener.
Siena increased its lead to three again in the bottom of the sixth as John Rooney scored on Dan Swain’s single. The Saints added another in the eighth.
Canisius’ Anthony Massicci went 2 for 3 in the opener and 3 for 5 in the final. He (9 for 15, six runs scored) and Luppens (7 for 15, .600 on-base percentage) earned All-Tournament Team honors.