FISHKILL -- Payback is a beautiful thing.
After being swept in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship round last season by Siena, the Canisius baseball team returned the favor Saturday at Dutchess Stadium as the Golden Griffins earned their second NCAA Tournament bid by winning the MAAC Tournament championship with an 11-2 triumph over the Saints in Saturday afternoon’s winner-take-all final in the conference’s championship series.
Tournament MVP Connor Panas carried the Griffs into the big dance by driving in six runs with a 3-for-5 bat out of the leadoff spot. Panas’ two-run triple highlighted a four-run fourth that extended Canisius’ lead to 7-0. He drove in two more with a fifth-inning single and then delivered another two-run single in the seventh for a Griffs squad that opened the tournament with a loss to Quinnipiac but won five straight elimination games to earn the championship.
“I don’t know if a team has ever won five in a row to win the MAAC Tournament,” Canisius coach Mike McRae said. “It was a total team effort. We had contributions from so many guys. … We had a bunch of different pitchers step up.”
Including reliever Zachary Sloan. In his first career start, he earned the win going five innings, yielding two runs on four hits.
“He did a tremendous job for us in a role he hadn’t been accustomed to,” McRae said. “He went a lot further than we expected him too.”
Tyler Smith and Eric Stolzenburg (Williamsville East) combined for four innings of one-hit relief with Stolzenburg (Williamsville East) recording the final six outs for Canisius (34-28). Cyrus Senior drove in two, scored three runs and went 2 for 3 in the final game.
The Griffs forced the winner-take-all game by winning the opening game of the championship round against the Saints, 10-5, as freshman J.P. Stevenson struck out a career-high nine in six innings to earn the win. He yielded just two runs, one earned, before being lifted with a 10-1 lead. The Griffs’ offense scored twice in the first, three times in the second and five times in the fourth to put this one out of reach early. Anthony Massicci had five hits, finishing a homer shy of the cycle. Brett Siddall, Ryan Stekl (Lancaster), Jack Massa, Jake Lumley and Senior each drove in two runs.
Besides Panas, Mike Krische, Massa and Stevenson also earned spots on the MAAC All-Tournament Team.
This was the sixth time in nine years the Griffs made it to the championship round of the MAAC Tournament, including the fourth straight year.
Canisius will find out who it plays in the NCAA Tournament at noon Monday during the NCAA Tournament Selection Show (ESPN U).