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"There are no little things, just important things."

For a team that has gotten as close to a conference championship as the Canisius baseball team, including last season's gut-wrenching defeat in the championship series, that quote has been the area of focus for the Golden Griffins entering the 2013 season.

"I haven't really talked to our team directly about the end of last season," Canisius coach Mike McRae said, "but the areas we have emphasized since returning in the fall are really about being able to execute when we need to execute.

"Whether it is being in the correct defense as a fielder, rounding third base as hard as you can or executing a safety squeeze when the team needs a run, those are the things that make the difference in being a champion."

Canisius returns nine position players who made at least 30 starts last year as well as four additional position players with at least 20 starts from 2012. The Golden Griffins also return their top four starting pitchers (including the 2012 MAAC Rookie of the Year), the 2012 MAAC Relief Pitcher of the Year and three other relievers with at least 10 appearances last season. Add in a couple of arms as well as some freshmen trying to crack a deep batting order, and the depth of the 2013 Canisius baseball team has its ninth-year head coach encouraged.

"I like our depth on the mound. I like our depth all around the field as well," McRae said. "We have a lot of speed in the outfield and on the base paths that gives us a lot of options defensively and in the batting order.

SCHEDULE AND OUTLOOK

The depth of the Golden Griffins will be tested right away, with five games in four days on the opening weekend of the season. Canisius opens for the fourth consecutive season at the USA Baseball Complex in Cary, N.C. That event has expanded to eight teams from the original three-team weekend in 2010 against Wright State and Illinois-Chicago.

Non-conference series against UNC Asheville, Murray State, Longwood and Ohio are on the schedule before the Griffs open Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play against Saint Peter's University at the Demske Sports Complex on March 23-24. The Griffs will play their next three conference series on the road, including an April 20-21 set at defending league champion Manhattan, before playing three of its last four conference series at home.

Mid-week games feature traditional opponents Buffalo and St. Bonaventure, along with regional opponents Akron, Binghamton and Cornell.

"Heading into the season, I feel our schedule is consistent with where it has been in previous years," McRae said. "I really enjoy the neutral-site series against Northern teams to start the year and the rest of those non-conference series should get us ready for the conference schedule."

Canisius was picked second in the MAAC preseason coaches poll with 72 points, two points behind two-time defending league champion Manhattan. The Griffs were the projected favorite by a number of publications, including Baseball America, Perfect Game and College Baseball Insider.

For a program with 175 wins over the past five seasons, Canisius has shown it can consistently have successful seasons. That win total ranks fourth in the Northeast and 47th nationally. Canisius is one of two schools in the Northeast and one of 44 schools nationally with 33 or more wins in four of the last five seasons.

The one piece missing from this program getting even more attention on the national stage is winning that last game at the end of May. It's something that has been the goal for McRae since taking over a program ranked second-last in the country in RPI in 2004. It's something that has pushed the Golden Griffins to be a consistent MAAC contender with six consecutive conference tournament appearances.

It's something that has driven the entire program each and every day since the heartbreaking end to the 2012 season at Joe Bruno Stadium in Troy, N.Y.

"Our goal is the same this year as it is every year," McRae said. "We want to qualify for the conference tournament and give ourselves the chance to win the first MAAC Championship in program history.

"Then we have to find a way to win the last game."


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