Canisius baseball headed to Minneapolis for NCAA Tournament

 

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The Canisius baseball team looks at the projector screen to find out which regional they would be heading to for this year’s Division I Baseball Tournament. (Marshall Haim/The Griffin)

 

By Marshall Haim

Sports Editor

All eyes were on the projector screen in Science Hall during Canisius’ selection show watch party on Monday afternoon.

In the second-to-last bracket announced, Canisius appeared as the No. 4 seed underneath the Minneapolis Region. The Griffs will face top-seeded Minnesota on Friday at 8 p.m. at Siebert Field.

Canisius will join second-seeded UCLA and No. 3 seed Gonzaga in the Twin Cities for this weekend’s regional.

The first game in the double-elimination tournament will take place on Friday between UCLA and Gonzaga at 2 p.m. Canisius will play at 8 p.m. on Friday against the host Gophers.

“It’s a competitive regional,” first-year head coach Matt Mazurek said. “Minnesota is the only team I looked up last night stat wise, I don’t know why but I did, and they have some impressive numbers. I think it’s a good opportunity for us and it’s a spot where we should be.”

For Canisius, it is their third appearance in the NCAA Tournament, all coming within the last six years (2013 and 2015). They will be looking for their first-ever win in the national tournament.

Eight players (John Conti, Christ Conley, Ryan Stekl, Cyrus Senior, JP Stevenson, Tyler Smith, Nick Capitano and Michael Ginther) on this year’s team were on the team the last time Canisius made it to the tournament. Current pitching coach Brandon Bielecki was a senior on that year’s squad.

“It’s awesome,” Stevenson said. “It’s something we’ve had the privilege getting into our first year here as a freshman. It’s an experience you’re never going to forget, so it’s really exciting that we get to go out the way we came in with that special experience and I get to experience it with my brothers.”

“It’s just fantastic,” Stekl added. “We told ourselves we got a really good shot this year. We’re older and have 12 seniors. Let’s be the dudes and finish our career on the right note and we did. I can share that with all those seniors and especially this whole team.”

Mazurek, who is currently in his 14th year with the program, said that the previous two teams to make the NCAA Tournament don’t blend in and that every team was different.

In 2013 and 2015, Canisius overcame heartbreaking losses in the MAAC Championship game. The Griffs needed one win to clinch the MAAC’s automatic bid into the national tournament but ended up losing a pair of games in the championship round.

“I think back to 2013 and you had some tough guys that deserved it and they worked their way through some hard times,” Mazurek said. “They had 2012 where they needed to win one and lost two and came back with a chip on their shoulder. You had 2015, [the] same thing happened to them in 2014, and they had a chip on their shoulder and they came out of the losers bracket and just battled.

“Then you had this team, who got knocked around, ups and downs, all season long and kind of had a rejuvenation and took the bull by the horns and did it. Yes, there’s a correlation in terms of teams coming through, knowing they should go get something and they went and got it.”

Canisius (35-20) went undefeated in the MAAC Tournament, winning four games in as many days. The Griffs handily defeated Monmouth in the championship game on Saturday, 11-0, at Richmond County Bank Ballpark on Staten Island. The Griffs currently ride an eight-game win streak heading into the Minneapolis Regional against the 14th-best No. 1 seed in the tournament.

“We had kind of a down part to our season there in the middle but lately we’ve been playing loose, trusting each other, trusting ourselves,” Stevenson said. “We’ve just been trusting the process we’ve instilled into ourselves and into each other every day.”

“Honestly, I wish we could keep playing,” Stekl added. “Those four days we got into a rhythm right from the start and the lineup was fantastic. Our pitchers pitched really well. Middle of the season, things weren’t clicking. We would pitch well or we wouldn’t hit well. We would hit well and we wouldn’t pitch well. The tournament we just did everything right at the same time. That was the best ball we’ve played all year.”

 

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