This week for Canisius Athletics

By Marshall Haim

Assistant Sports Editor

The students may be away from campus this week for the annual spring break but spring sports are in full swing for Canisius.

Baseball and softball, along with both men’s and women’s lacrosse are all closing in on the ends of their non-conference schedules, nearing the beginning of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) play. As Winter Storm Stella approaches towards Western New York to unleash its wrath, all of Canisius athletics playing games away from Buffalo, enjoying decent weather in fair weather states, or spending the week off from games.

Here’s what’s to look for this week for Canisius’ athletic programs.

1. Softball continues Florida road trip

After playing five games in three days in the Under Armour Showcase in Tampa the Griffs have earned a couple days off before playing arguably the biggest game of the season on Wednesday. Canisius will face the nation’s top team, Florida State, before playing Florida Gulf Coast in Fort Myers. This will be the third time this academic year that Canisius has faced a team that was ranked number one in the nation. Hockey in October at North Dakota and men’s lacrosse in late February at Denver were the others. Men’s basketball (Kentucky) and women’s lacrosse (North Carolina) both played the nation’s second-best team in their respective sports.

Softball is spending their spring break in Florida for nine days, escaping the impending winter storm that could potentially unleash at least a foot of snow in the Buffalo area. The Griffs went 3-2 in their five game stretch in the Under Armour Showcase.

Friday’s first game against Central Connecticut State went in favor of the Griffs, 3-1, before losing a heartbreaker to Villanova. The Griffs were originally scheduled to play Butler in the second game on Friday, but the schedule changed the night prior. Saturday’s twin-bill against South Dakota State and Holy Cross saw Canisius lose to South Dakota State before crushing Holy Cross in five innings, 13-3. The Griffs (9-9) closed out the showcase with a 5-4 win over La Salle yesterday (Sunday).

Following the Griffs’ doubleheader on Wednesday, Canisius will stay in Fort Myers for the Battle at the Beach Tournament. Canisius will play Cleveland State, for the third time this season, before facing Iowa State on Friday. The Griffs will close out round robin play with games against Drexel and Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday.

2. Hockey advances to Atlantic Hockey semifinals

The hottest team on campus continues to extend the nation’s longest unbeaten streak on the ice. Canisius hockey swept Niagara this past weekend to advance to the Atlantic Hockey semifinals and hold onto their 17-game unbeaten streak.

This marks the fourth time in five years that the Griffs have made it to Blue Cross Arena in Rochester for the conference’s semifinals. Canisius did not make the semifinals last year but did advance to the championship game two years prior, winning the championship in 2013.

Canisius shut out the Purple Eagles in the first game of the best-of-three series, 3-0. Jimmy Mazza, Dylan McLaughlin and Nick Hutchison scored for the Griffs, while Charles Williams earned another shutout giving him a share for the nation’s lead (6).

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Jimmy Mazza, who had two points last weekend, takes a shot during last Saturday’s win over Niagara. (Marshall Haim/The Griffin)

On Saturday, the Blue and Gold needed late game heroics giving the Griffs a sweep of the Purple Eagles. A Ryan Schmelzer deflection of a Mazza slap shot with 1:15 left in regulation netted the game-winning goal.

With Army’s defeat of Mercyhurst yesterday, the Griffs found out they would play Robert Morris in the Atlantic Hockey semifinals on Friday at 4:30 p.m. The battle of military academies, Army and Air Force, will be the other semifinal. The championship game will be held at the Blue Cross Arena on Saturday.

Students have also been alerted that they will be able to attend the Atlantic Hockey semifinals in Rochester with free transportation on Friday if they e-mail petey@canisius.edu. All students must RSVP by noon tomorrow (Tuesday).

3. Men’s basketball plays in the CIT

Like hockey, men’s basketball also has a streak they have done four times in the last five years. The men’s basketball team accepted an invitation to the College Insider Tournament (CIT) and will play their first round game on Tuesday. Canisius (18-15) will head down to Birmingham, Ala. to face Samford (19-15) for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff. All games in the tournament will be broadcasted on Facebook Live. The semifinals and championship game will be streamed on CBS Sports Network.

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Phil Valenti, driving to the basket at the MAAC Tournament, will play in his fourth CIT Tournament. (Emyle Watkins/The Griffin)

Canisius is one of 32 teams in this year’s tournament and one of three MAAC teams to participate. Fairfield and Saint Peter’s also accepted invitations.

Canisius did not participate in last year’s tournament, but advanced to the CIT quarterfinals in the 2015 tournament. Canisius defeated Dartmouth at home before besting Bowling Green on the road. The Griffs lost to NJIT, 78-73, marking the farthest the Griffs have ever gone in the tournament.

If Canisius wins on Tuesday, there is a slim possibility that the Griffs could host a home game, which will could be held on any date between March 17-20.

4. Men’s lacrosse plays a pair

With the impending snowstorm, the men’s lacrosse team will be forced to play their second game at the Pinnacle Athletic Campus in Victor, N.Y., a suburb of Rochester. The Griffs opened their season against Dartmouth at the indoor facility defeating the Big Green, 13-8. Opening faceoff for the game will be at 1 p.m. against New York lacrosse rival, Hobart.

“The game was originally scheduled to be played at Boswell Field on Hobart’s campus at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, but the evening forecast calls for snow showers, winds ranging from 10-20 miles per hour, and a low around 20 degrees,” a press release from Canisius athletic communications stated. “Tickets for the game are $10 and can be purchased on game day beginning at noon at the Pinnacle Athletic Campus.”

Canisius men’s lacrosse (2-2) is coming off a powerful victory over Cleveland State at the Krenzler Dome in Cleveland, Ohio on March 4, 17-7. The game on Tuesday will be the first of three games in an eight-day stretch.

The Griffs will return home for their first true home game against the Marist Red Foxes, as the game against Dartmouth was considered a home game for Canisius. Faceoff for the “home opener” is scheduled for noon at the Demske Sports Complex. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN3.

5. Baseball stays south

Canisius’ baseball team will remain in the southern portion of the United States like the softball program. The Griffs played Virginia Tech on Monday, before the team stays in Virginia to play a three-game series with George Mason. Friday will be a single game with Saturday being a doubleheader.

The Griffs (10-5) have opened the season with good success, especially from the pitching as the team boasts a 3.05 ERA. J.P. Stevenson owns the team-best ERA for starters, 1.73. Andrew Sipowicz has appeared in four games for the Blue and Gold (two of them starts), allowing the opposition to hit a mere .151. He has the second-best ERA on the team for starters, 1.77. Tyler Smith has came in relief five times and owns an ERA of 1.29 in 7 innings of work. The Griffs have limited the opposition to bat just .230 this season.

Not only has the pitching been superb this year, so has the offense. Canisius’ offense currently owns a .265 batting average this season, including a .391 clip from senior infielder Jake Lumley. Juniors Ryan Stekl (.379) and Liam Wilson (.311) round out the team’s top trio of hitters. Senior catcher Christ Conley has the team-lead for runs batted in (12). Stekl is right behind with 11.

Honorable mention

  • Golf opens up their 2017 spring schedule with the first and second rounds of the Bradley Spring Invite at Brookhaven C.C. in Dallas, Texas. The final round of the invite will be held on Tuesday.
  • Women’s lacrosse will have almost the next two weeks off after they defeated Michigan on Sunday, 18-10. Junior Erica Evans continues her stellar play as she netted five goals and added two assists in the win over the Wolverines. Fellow junior Allie Stewart added three goals and three assists. Jourdan Roemer and Ashley Bull also scored three goals each. Goaltender Rebecca VanLaeken continues to be one of the nation’s best goalkeepers, saving 13 shots on Sunday. VanLaeken holds the third-best saves per game (11.56). She also has the most saves of any goaltender in Division I lacrosse with 104. The Griffs will return to action on March 25 at Manhattan to open up MAAC play.
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