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Canisius beats Niagara to advance in MAAC Baseball Championship



CANISIUS COLLEGE ATHLETICS

No alternative text provided.BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Canisius baseball team scored two unearned runs in the seventh inning and senior closer Tyler Smith earned a six-out save as the Golden Griffins defeated the Purple Eagles 5-4 in the first game of the 2018 MAAC Baseball Championship Wednesday afternoon at Richmond County Bank Ballpark in Staten Island, N.Y.

With the win, the third-seeded Griffs (32-20) advance to play No. 2 seed Quinnipiac Thursday at noon in the winner's bracket, while Niagara (24-26) will play either Siena or Marist in the tournament's first elimination game. That contest will be played Thursday at 3:30 p.m.

With the game tied at 3-3 heading into the bottom of the seventh, the Blue and Gold took advantage of two Niagara fielding errors to score twice for the 5-3 lead. Senior Christ Conley led off the frame with a leadoff walk, and then advanced to second base moments later when senior Liam Wilson reached safely on a sacrifice-bunt attempt that was misplayed by Niagara third baseman Philippe Langlois. The Griffs loaded the bases thanks to another Niagara error on a ground ball by senior Ryan Stekl, and after an out was recorded, junior Mark McKenna made the score 4-3 with a ground-out to short that allowed Conley to score from third. Junior Conner Morro tacked on an insurance with an RBI-single to right-center, with Wilson scoring on that play.

Niagara cut the Griffs' lead to 5-4 in the eighth when Julian Gallup raced home to score on a throwing error by Conley on a double-steal attempt. The Purple Eagles had the bases loaded against Smith, the 2018 MAAC Relief Pitcher of the Year with two outs, but the Trafford, Pa., native ended that scoring threat by striking out Wyatt Olson to end the frame. In the ninth, Smith just needed seven pitches to secure his 10th save of the season, capped by a strikeout of Niagara's Peter Battaglia to end the ball game.

Niagara held a 2-0 lead after two innings before Canisius cut that margin to 2-1 in the third thanks to an RBI-single to center by Conley. Canisius took a 3-2 lead in the home-half of the fourth on the power of a ground-ball out by sophomore Brett Migliore that scored McKenna, followed by an RBI-double to the gap in left-center off the bat of junior Canice Ejoh to drive in Morro.

McKenna and Morro each had multiple hits in the winning effort for the Griffs, who had seven hits for the contest. Ejoh's double in the fourth inning was the only extra-base hit in the game for the Griffs.

Canisius starter J.P. Stevenson, the 2018 MAAC Pitcher of the Year, improved to 10-1 on the season after he allowed three runs on five hits while fanning six in seven innings of work. Smith's save, the 22nd in his career, came after he allowed a run on one hit to go with three strikeouts and two walks in the final two innings.

Niagara's Tyler Howard took the loss in relief for the Purple Eagles, who were making their first MAAC Baseball Championship appearance since 2006. Howard gave up two runs, both unearned, on one hit while walking two and striking out one batter.

GAME NOTES
• Wednesday's game marked the first time Canisius and Niagara met in the MAAC Baseball Championship.
• The win on Wednesday was the fifth straight for the Griffs, the team's longest win streak since the Blue and Gold won six-straight contests from Feb. 17 through March 2.
• Canisius, which is making its 12th straight appearance in the MAAC Baseball Championship, improved to 10-8 all-time in conference tournament postseason games decided by one run.
• The victory on Wednesday also makes first-year head coach Matt Mazurek the first coach in program history to earn a victory in his MAAC Baseball Championship debut.
• The win on the mound for Stevenson makes him the fifth pitcher in program history to earn double-digit victories in a single-season.
• Smith's save makes him the sixth Griffs closer all-time to tally 10-or more saves in a single-season. 
• Conley has now reached base safely in 14-straight games, a stretch that dates back to April 29 when the team played at Rider.
• The two hits for McKenna gives him multiple hits in 10 games this season.
• Ejoh's double was his fifth of the season and his first since April 15 at Iona.

UP NEXT
Canisius will play No. 2 seed Quinnipiac in a winner's bracket game Thursday at noon. The Griffs and the Bobcats played three times during the regular season, with Quinnipiac taking two of those three contests. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN+.