May 25, 2014
LAKEWOOD, N.J. - 0-17. 34 road games and 11,000 miles away from home to start the year. Four MAAC Tournament elimination games. Siena Baseball overcame the odds all year long and it culminated with the second seeded Saints defeating regular-season champion Canisius twice (6-5 and 5-1) Sunday to capture the program's fifth MAAC Championship at FirstEnergy Park and first since 1999.
"I'll tell you what, our two freshmen pitchers pitched great, and our bullpen has been strong and we played solid defense," said 45th year head coach Tony Rossi who earned his 800th career coaching victory in the clinching win. "Our kids just scrapped and kept coming and coming and didn't die."
The Saints (26-31) will make just their second appearance in the NCAA Regionals (1999) and learn where they are headed when the brackets are revealed during the Selection Show at noon Monday on ESPNU.
Needing to win twice to secure the title, Siena rode the right arms of seldom used freshmen and unlikely heroes Chris Amorosi and Taylor Ahearn. MAAC Tournament MVP Vincent Citro added a pair of three-hit games and finished with a Siena tournament record 14 hits, hitting .700 (14-for-20) for the week with nine runs scored.
In a rematch of last year's MAAC Championship Series, Amorosi gave the Saints 4.1 shutout innings in the opener scattering five hits. Siena struck first in the fifth inning on a Dave Hoffmann RBI groundout which plated MAAC All-Tournament Team selection Andres Ortiz.
Canisus (40-16) scored four unanswered runs to take a 4-1 lead through seven innings. Jesse Puscheck delivered an RBI double in the bottom of the sixth and Anthony Messicci and MAAC Player of the Year Conor Panas delivered run-scoring hits in the seventh to put the Golden Griffins six defensive outs away from repeating as MAAC Champions.
Devon Stewart quieted the Saints' bats, allowing just one unearned run over seven innings on four hits. But in the top of the eighth, Siena would get to Canisius reliever Iannick Remillard.
Brian Fay set the tone, drilling a bases loaded two-run double to deep right to pull the Saints within a run. John Rooney scored the tying run on a wild pitch and MAAC Rookie of the Year Dan Swain added a sacrifice fly and Hoffman contributed an RBI single as the Saints rallied to take a 6-4 lead.
Canisius got a run back off Matt Quintana in the ninth, but Siena's all-time saves leader and MAAC co-Reliever of the Year Neil Fryer induced Jesse Kelso into the Griffs' fourth double play of the contest to end it and set up the decisive second game. Siena, which entered the week ranked 23rd nationally in double plays turned, tallied five key twin killings in total on the day.
Siena's game one win snapped Canisius' 18-game winning streak - the longest active winning streak in the nation and longest by and Division I program all season. The Golden Griffins entered the Tournament ranked 29th in this week's Collegiate Baseball Top-30 Poll.
Pitching on short rest, the Saints got to MAAC Pitcher of the Year Rohn Pierce early in the second game. Rooney delivered his first of three RBI in the game, scoring Citro with the game's first run in the opening inning.
"We've got seven seniors over there that I love and we all just wanted to win this for us," said an emotional Citro after the game.
Rooney, who was named to the MAAC All-Tournament Team, delivered the big blow in the bottom of the third doubling to right center scoring Mike Allen and Justin Esquerra to make it 3-0. Ahearn did the rest, allowing just one run on six hits in 5.2 innings to earn the victory in just his third collegiate start.
"Coach just told me not to get too high or too low," Ahearn recalled. "I just went out there and tried to pitch to contact and not do too much and it paid off."
MAAC All-Tournament Team selection Fryer got the final three outs, inducing Jimmy Luppens to fly out to center field for the final out as the Saints stormed the field to celebrate their first title in 15 years. Fryer fired five shutout innings over the weekend, picking up two wins in relief and a save.
Sunday's two wins capped off a resilient weekend for a Siena team whose success was predicated on comebacks all year long. The Saints won elimination games Saturday, 6-5 in walk-off fashion over tournament host Monmouth and 4-3 over Fairfield, to advance to the championship series. In the process, Siena is now a remarkable 9-3 in elimination games in the program's last four MAAC Tournament Appearances.
The Saints head to the their second NCAA Tournament as winners of 21 of their last 29 games after tying Marist for the second most MAAC Championships in league history. Siena previously won MAAC Championships in 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1999 but lost NCAA Tournament play-in games following their first three titles.