TRENTON, N.J. – Canisius junior Jose Torralba took one for the team – as he was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning - to lift the Golden Griffins to a 12-11 win over Siena College Sunday afternoon in the 2013 MAAC Baseball Championship game at ARM & HAMMER Stadium in Trenton, N.J. Canisius’ win allows the program to secure its first MAAC baseball crown and the team will advance to the 2013 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship, starting next Friday, May 31.
Canisius will learn its regional placement and opponent on Monday, May 27, when the field of 64 for this year’s NCAA Tournament is officially released on ESPNU at noon. The Griffs will enter the national postseason with a 42-15 overall mark and a 15-9 record in MAAC play. The 42 wins are the most in school and MAAC history, besting the previous record held by the 2008 Canisius team and the 2002 Marist squad.
Canisius led 11-9 with two outs in the top of the ninth, but Siena senior Larry Balkwell knotted the game at 11-11 after he ripped a two-run homer over the fence in left center. The third-seeded Griffs came to the plate and got the leadoff man on thanks to a walk in the bottom of the ninth, but Siena hurler Justin Brantley got two quick outs with a tailor-made double-play ball. Senior Brooklyn Foster drew a two-out walk and moved to third base moments later on a single by sophomore Connor Panas. Sophomore designated hitter Jesse Puscheck received a free pass from Brantley to load the bases, setting the stage for Torralba.
Torralba, who finished the day by going 3-for-4 with three RBIs and three runs scored, took Brantley’s 3-2 offering off his helmet, allowing Foster to race down the line from third base to score the game’s winning run. After he was hit by the pitch, Torralba jumped up, threw his batting helmet in the air, and raced to first where he was then swarmed by all of his Griff teammates as the team celebrated its first conference championship.
"To think about where this program was when we inherited it to take it to where it is today, I couldn't be happier for everybody," Canisius coach Mike McRae said. "From the first recruiting class to the guys here right now that are a part of it, it is an awesome experience for everybody."
Canisius took advantage of three walks from Siena starter Rick Morales in the bottom of the first and used a two-out, RBI-single from Panas to take the early 1-0 lead. The Griffs pushed across another run in the second on a sacrifice fly from junior Ryan Coppinger that put Canisius up 2-0. Canisius then scored three runs in the bottom of the third, getting a two-run homer from Puscheck and a sacrifice fly from junior Jesse Kelso that followed a triple from Torralba, to build a 5-0 lead.
The Saints battled back into the game with three runs in the top of the fifth before Canisius broke the game open with five runs in the bottom of the sixth, batting around in the inning. The Griffs took advantage of two Siena errors in the inning, including one on a sacrifice bunt from Foster that loaded the bases with nobody out. Panas worked a bases-loaded walk to force home a run. After a force out at the plate, Torralba sent an opposite-field single to right that was over-run by the rightfielder and three runs scored on the play. The Griffs scored five in the inning and went up 10-3.
Siena, which overcame a seven-run deficit in the loser’s bracket final game to defeat No. 1 seed Rider on Saturday evening, didn’t go away quietly, scoring six runs in the top of the seventh when the Saints sent 11 batters to the dish. Junior Jon Fitzsimmons was the fourth pitcher of the inning for the Griffs and recorded all three outs but Siena made it a one-run game, 10-9. Canisius scored an insurance run in the bottom of the seventh, getting another two-out RBI single from Panas to go up by two runs at 11-9.
Fitzsimmons, who was named the 2013 MAAC Co-Relief Pitcher of the Year, earned the win for the Blue and Gold after he allowed three runs on four hits while fanning three and walking three in three innings of work. Canisius starter Rohn Pierce started the game for the Blue and Gold and worked six innings, where he allowed four runs on eight hits while walking four and fanning five. Siena used five pitchers in the losing effort and Brantley’s season came to an end with a 5-6 record after he allowed one run on one hit while walking four in 1.2 innings of work.
Puscheck was named the 2013 MAAC Championship MVP after he went 4-for-11 with seven RBIs and five runs scored in two games, highlighted by his two-run homer in the championship game and his grand slam in the Griffs’ win over Rider Saturday afternoon. Joining Puscheck on the MAAC All-Tournament Team was Coppinger, Foster, junior Ronnie Burnick, who went 4-for-10 with four walks and two RBIs in three games and junior starter Garrett Cortright, who tossed a one-hit, complete-game gem Thursday in Canisius’ first round, 2-1 win over Marist.
Game Notes: This marked the third time Canisius and Siena have played in the MAAC Baseball Tournament, with the Saints winning the previous two elimination games in 2008 and 2011… The Griffs were in their seventh-straight MAAC Baseball Championship and this marked the fourth time in the last five years where the Blue and Gold played in the championship round… Canisius batters were hit by pitch three times on Sunday to push the team’s total to 119 this season… The win improved Canisius to 27-5 when scoring first and the team moved to 27-0 on the year when leading after eight innings... The walk-off win was the Griffs’ 11th this season… Canisius moved to 26-4 when the starting pitcher goes six or more innings this season and the team is now 8-2 in contests started by Pierce… Canisius is the fifth different program to win the MAAC baseball championship since 2000.