Siena sat just one out away from a trip to the MAAC Championship game through the winner's bracket Friday night in Trenton, but couldn't close the deal. Austin Sheffield bounced a routine two-hopper to third with runners at the corners and Manhattan down a run, but third baseman Adam Guinn short-armed the throw across the diamond, triggering a wild, unimaginable end to a classic MAAC Tournament game in which the Jaspers somehow prevailed 8-7.
First baseman Bill Cardona came off the bag slightly, veering into the baseline to try to corral Guinn's throw on one hop, but couldn't. Mark Onorati, who led off the bottom of the ninth with a double, scored the tying run, but the drama was just starting to unfold. Sheffield plowed into Cardona, and the ball kicked free. Chad Salem never stopped running on the play, and by the time Cardona gathered himself, retrieved the ball, and fired home, the Jaspers were erupting from their dugout to celebrate their second walk-off win of the Tournament. After a quick meeting, the umpires decided not to rule interference on the play.
Manhattan advances to the MAAC Championship Round for the first time since 2007. Siena falls to the loser's bracket and will face No. 4 seed Canisius in an elimination game at 2 p.m. Saturday. The winner advances to face Manhattan in the Championship Round Saturday night at 6 p.m., but will need to beat the Jaspers twice to claim the title. A tall task considering Manhattan has lost just twice in 24 games against MAAC schools this season, and no team has won the Tournament out of the loser's bracket since Siena did so in 1997.
On the other hand, the Saints proved Friday they can certainly play with the Jaspers. They also proved anything is possible.
The end of the game was the culmination of a frantic final two innings. Siena rallied from 5-2 down behind superstar Dan Paolini, whose three-run blast - his 19th of the season and 56th of his incomparable career - tied the game in the eighth, and ignited a five-run frame that put Siena up 7-5. The damage could have been much worse, as the Saints had runners on second and third with no outs, but Jaspers' reliever Jacob Marchus worked out of further trouble.
Manhattan cut the lead in half on Ramon Ortega's one-out double in the eighth, but Siena seemed poised to add insurance in the ninth when their misfortune kicked in. Vincent Citro led off with a single, stole second and advanced to third when Ortega's throw to second sailed into center field. Paolini then rocketed a one-hopper up the middle that Marchus somehow stabbed to keep Citro at third. After Kevin Quaranto was intentionally walked, Mike Fish lined a bullet to third with a drawn in infield, but Salem lunged to his left, robbing the Saints' centerfielder of his fourth hit of the day, and the much-needed RBI. Guinn then grounded to short to end the frame.
Onorati doubled off the left field wall to start the ninth, and was sacrificed to third by Nick Camastro. Reliever Ryan Poplawski walked the dangerous Chad Salem, but rallied to strike out the Jaspers' top hitter, Mike McCann, with a perfectly placed fastball on the outside corner. Siena fans rose to their feet in anticipation of the final out, but it wasn't to be. The stunned expressions that filled the bleachers behind the Siena dugout following the horror that ensued, were matched only by those in front of it.