May 25, 2013
Siena pulled off one of the great comebacks in MAAC Tournament history Saturday night, rallying past top seed Rider 11-8 to secure a spot in Sunday's Championship Round against Canisius here in Trenton. The Saints trailed 7-1 before tying the game on Andres Ortiz seventh inning grand slam, and again in the ninth on Larry Balkwill's two-out RBI single. John Rooney delivered the eventual winning run with an RBI double in the top of the 10th.
"We really played well from the fifth inning on," head coach Tony Rossi said. "The kids really deserve a lot of credit for never giving up."
The Saints will need to beat Canisius twice Sunday (first pitch at 12 p.m.), but after this it sure looks like anything is possible. The Griffs pounded Rider 18-7 in the conclusion of a suspended game earlier Saturday to move onto the Championship from the winner's bracket.
The Saints trailed 7-1 after Adam Wayman's three-run blast in the fourth, but got within striking distance with single runs on two-out RBI hits in the fifth and sixth.
"I told (Andres) to take a pitch, and that then I thought he would get a pitch to hit," Rossi, who met with Ortiz before his big blow, said. "I told him to relax, and he obviously really came through."
Ortiz's home run was his second of the Tournament, and he was one of six Saints with two or more hits Saturday night.
Rider took the lead back in the bottom of the seventh when Nick Crescenzo tripled and scored on a ground out, and again it seemed like time would run out on the Saints.
Citro worked a one-out walk in the ninth, and Rossi chose to have Ortiz sacrifice him to second for MAAC Player of the Year Mike Fish. MAAC Coach of the Year Barry Davis answered by walking Fish, bringing Balkwill to the plate with the Saints' season on the line.
"I was a bit surprised they put the winning run on base, but I had confidence in Larry," Rossi, who again left the coaches box for a meeting with his senior catcher, said. "I told him to relax, and that he would get a pitch he could do some damage with."
Balkwill lined a ball into the left field corner, and Citro easily scored the tying run from second. Fish was gunned down at the plate trying to score the go-ahead run from first on a nice relay throw by Wayman.
Unsung hero Neil Fryer got the heart of Rider's lineup in order in the bottom of the ninth to force extras. Siena's closer worked the final 6.1 innings to earn the victory.
Brian Fay made three errors in the first four innings at third base, but the sophomore led off the 10th with an opposite field double to start the decisive rally. Rooney followed with a sharp double into the left center field gap with Rider expecting a bunt.>Mike Allen then traded places with Rooney, lacing another double down the left field line, and he scored the final run of the game on a wild pitch.
"I thought their pitcher looked a little flat," Rossi said of his decision to turn Rooney and Allen loose. "I knew we would get some pitches to hit."
Rider got the first two men on in the bottom of the 10th, but Fryer struck out Eric Strano and induced pop-ups by James Locklear and leadoff man Mike Parsons to end the game.
Siena has now reached the Championship Round in each of its last three MAAC Tournament appearances (2008 and 2011) - all three coming here in Trenton.
In 2008 they forced a decisive game with a walk-off win in game one, and in 2011 they were eliminated in the first Championship game. They haven't won the MAAC title since 1999.
Canisius, which needs to win just once tomorrow to capture the title, has never won a MAAC Championship despite making seven straight Tournament appearances.
"It's obviously going to be a challenge, but they're pretty deep into their pitching staff too," Rossi said. "We could make things interesting."
After tonight, nobody's questioning that.