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Stolen ring sparks Canisius baseball team's MAAC championship quest

Conner Morro got the phone call on a Friday morning in February, and his roommate’s voice was frantic.

Their apartment on Loring Avenue had been broken into the previous night, while the Canisius baseball team traveled to Durham, N.C., for a three-game series at North Carolina Central.

At least $2,500 worth of valuables had been stolen, including a piece of jewelry: Morro’s 2018 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship ring.

The silver ring, with a "C" in Old English script on the front and Morro’s last name on one side, sat in a box on his nightstand before it was stolen. Three months later, it has yet to be found.

The Golden Griffins, however, have a chance to earn another ring for the senior infielder from Toronto.

Canisius (24-27) opens the MAAC Tournament as the top seed, and the Griffs face the lower-seeded winner of either No. 3 Fairfield-No. 6 Monmouth or No. 4 Marist-No.5 Manhattan at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Richmond County Bank Ballpark in Staten Island.

The winner of the six-team tournament receives an automatic bid to the 64-team NCAA Tournament, which begins May 31.

The stolen ring has sparked a mission for the Griffs, who pursue their fourth MAAC championship since 2013.

“We’ve got to win another championship, so I can have another ring,” Morro said. “I laugh it off a bit, but deep down, I think, 'I’d love to have that ring back.' Then, I think, ‘Well, if we win another one, I wonder if it might not matter as much to me.’ ”

The season didn’t start smoothly for the Griffs. Less than nine months after losing two games in an NCAA regional in Minneapolis and finishing the season 35-22, Canisius won five of its first 20 games, and finished its nonconference schedule 7-20.

Many of those losses came against larger schools with more name recognition, including Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia and Kansas State.

The Golden Griffins faced tougher hitters and competitive pitching, and NCAA Tournament teams in Indiana and Kent State. They traveled thousands of miles, including two trips to North Carolina in February and a trip to Manhattan, Kan., in March. At one point, they lost six games in a row as part of a 1-10 stretch from March 1-17.

They even played a three-game series at Notre Dame May 11-12, sandwiched between a pair of 3-game MAAC series. The Griffs dropped all three games to the Irish, but won a share of the MAAC regular-season championship five days later with a 10-4 victory at Niagara, and earned the top seed in the MAAC Tournament by winning the regular-season series against co-champion Quinnipiac.

Griffs coach Matt Mazurek, however, created this year's schedule with a certain intent.

“I got some flack for that one, that ‘You’re setting these guys up for failure,’ ” Mazurek said. “But at the same time, this is a team that hasn’t had as much experience. There were a lot of guys who stepped into roles this year that are older guys, sophomores or juniors, but they hadn’t had the spotlight experience. By giving them that type of schedule, they needed it.

“It was an experience for them, to go out there and say, ‘Am I this good?’ Regardless of the wins or losses, the experience should be a valid learning curve for us.”

But on a road trip in February that went from North Carolina to West Virginia, Morro and his roommates got the news that they’d been robbed.

It’s an unsettling feeling when one’s personal space has been violated, and that their personal property might never be returned. Gaming consoles and cleats can be substituted, but symbols of passage are more difficult to replace.

A hunt began to locate the ring.

Morro took to social media, hoping someone would find it, or at least see it and set off a chain of events that would somehow get the ring back into his possession. Canisius pitcher Andrew Sipowicz had some luck with social media earlier in the school year, when his tweet of a note left for him by a 6-year-old after a bus hit his parked car on Blaine Avenue in November, went viral.

On Feb. 15, Morro posted a photo of a ring that belonged to teammate Joe Preziuso, a senior shortstop. It got more than 50 retweets and nearly 100 likes. It got a few responses, too.

From his hotel room in Morgantown, W.Va., the morning of a 5-4 loss Feb. 19 at West Virginia, Mazurek called pawn shops in the Buffalo area, asking if they had seen a piece of jewelry that matched the description of Morro’s ring.

“The fact that it hasn’t turned up, it’s surprising, because it’s such a unique piece,” Mazurek said. “What would someone do with that?”

A college championship ring is not as expensive as one would think. Schools typically pay for the rings, and NCAA rules cap championship gifts at $415 per student-athlete.

Morro wondered aloud about the possibility of seeing someone walking down the street, wearing a Canisius championship ring.

Then, he paused and considered the deeper worth of the ring. It can’t be appraised or replicated.

“Last year's [ring] represented the relationships I’ve built, more than anything, with those guys,” Morro said. “If I get that ring back, I’ll look at it and I’ll think about all the relationships I have with everyone on that team. A bunch of those guys are here today, and they’re working their butts off to help me get a new one, and that’s very special, that they have relationship with me, and we’re going to try and get another one.”

So for the Griffs, there’s only one way to return to the NCAA Tournament and to replace a championship ring: Win another MAAC title.

“The guys are saying, ‘Let’s go get Conner his missing ring,’ ” Mazurek said. “And I think that’s been a great rallying cry. They can hold on to that and know internally that’s what their goal is.”

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