Before Rich Miller went to bat with the Georgetown Cup on the line Tuesday, Canisius manager Bryan Tenney gave him a prophetic bit of advice.
“I told him if you try to jack it, we’re going to go extra innings,” Tenney said. “If you play within yourself and take a nice level swing at the pitch you like, we’ll be Georgetown Cup champions.”
Miller stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning with his Canisius Crusaders tied at one while leading the Monsignor Martin best-of-three championship series. 1-0. He took a couple pitches until he got one right over the plate.
The junior third basemen hit the ball crisply to centerfield to give Canisius a 2-1 win and its fourth Georgetown Cup in six years.
“(Tyler Howard) likes giving me the fastballs, so I knew I’d get one,” Miller said. “I got a good swing on it because he left it over the middle, about belt-high and here we are.”
Tenney may have had baseball practicality on his mind going into the final inning, but Miller had revenge on his. He was part of the Canisius team that lost to St. Joe’s in the Georgetown Cup last year under fairly similar circumstances. “They beat us last year, with a guy on third, down one and our senior captain strikes outs,” Miller said. “It’s the greatest feeling in the world coming back and beating them on a walk off.”
Before Miller got to the on-deck circle, it appeared as though the game was destined for extra innings. The first two batters of the inning for Canisius were retired on strikeout and groundout, bringing up the top of the order.
Leadoff man John Conti walked. Brendan Kaplewicz appeared ready to bunt before an inside pitch grazed his uniform, affording Miller his opportunity for heroism.
“John Conti is the fastest kid I’ve ever coached,” Tenney said. “I knew if we could get him on base, things could happen.”
Much like Game One – which ended 3-2 – pitching dominated. Canisius starter Dan Dallas went five innings, allowing one run and striking out six. Andrew Skomra relieved him and pitched scoreless sixth and seventh innings. Tyler Howard of St. Joe’s also pitched well, allowing just two runs on three hits.
Tenney credited much of his team’s success to quality pitching.
“We go eight-nine deep in our pitching staff,” Tenney said. “We’ve got some kids that should be pitching, not pitching. Every team has got a pitcher that can beat you. That’s kind of what this league is built on.”
Unlike many senior classes of Canisius baseball, this one had not had a championship. The team lost in the playoffs each of the last two seasons, making this the senior’s last chance to experience championship success at the high school level.
“I have four seniors that have been with me since sophomore year,” Tenney said. “That year we lost a shocker in the quarterfinals. Last year we lost in the finals to St. Joe’s. And they just kept stepping up and worked harder and harder. It paid off.”
The win carried a little extra meaning for Tenney. It marked the last time he would be able to coach one of his sons. Three of his four sons played baseball under him, including Colin Tenney who played shortstop for the current squad.
Of course, the game carried a little extra meaning for all the Canisius players as they consider St. Joe’s a bitter rival. “There’s nothing like it,” Miller said. “If it was against (St. Francis) it’d be nice and everything. But nothing beats beating (St. Joes) on a walk off.”