Niagara kept hope alive for qualifying for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament in baseball by doing something it hadn't done in six years.
The Purple Eagles split a doubleheader with their rivals Thursday, winning the first game 4-3. The host Golden Griffins won the nightcap, 5-2. Players with local ties led the charge on both sides.
NU scored thrice in the first inning of the opener, with Peter Battaglia (Williamsville North) belting a two-run homer for the Purple Eagles (24-23). Owen Dziados' fourth-inning homer made it 4-0 as they held on to snap a 17-game losing streak to Canisius.
In the nightcap, Andrew Sipowicz (Orchard Park) and Nolan Hunt (Westfield) combined on the six-hitter with Hunt getting the final two outs for his second save. Christ Conley (Lake Shore) hit a two-run double during the Griffs' four-run third inning.
The three-game set with the teams concludes at 1 p.m. Friday at Canisius.
Should Niagara triumph, it would secure fifth seed and a spot in the tournament it hosts next week at Sal Maglie Stadium with a 13-11 conference record. Should NU lose, then it becomes a little dicey.
It's possible five teams will be vying for the Nos. 5 and 6 seeds, the last two spots in the tournament, and they could all finish with identical 12-12 MAAC records which would lead to a complicated multi-team tiebreaker.
Rider already finished its conference slate with a 12-12 mark. The others in the hunt include Quinnipiac (11-12), Manhattan (11-12), Siena (10-12) and Monmouth (10-12). None of these teams plays the other to conclude the regular season.
Canisius (33-20, 15-8) has already clinched a spot in the tournament.
UB loses via walk off
Baseball is a funny game.
Two days after the University at Buffalo won in euphoric, walk-off fashion in its final home game the Bulls lost in tough-to-stomach walk-off fashion to open their final Mid-American Conference road series. Western Michigan took the first of three games by rallying for two runs in the bottom of the ninth to take a 6-5 decision from UB. The comeback happened after the Bulls broke a 4-4 tie in their half of the ninth.
The second game of the series is at 3 p.m. Friday in Kalamazoo, Mich.
Phillip Tomasulo's sacrifice fly plated Brian Dudek to give UB the lead. The Broncos (21-27, 10-12) responded when Connor Smith singled to lead off the bottom of the ninth. After a flyout, he scored on a double by Nate Grys. Jesse Forestell drove him in with a single up the middle.
Tomasulo went 3 for 3, while Dudek went 3 for 4 for the Bulls (17-32, 8-14) – which stranded 16 runners on base.