Niagara Gazette

Niagara U.

May 19, 2010

Niagara baseball ‘not afraid’ to finish strong

NIAGARA FALLS — A year ago, the talk was about magic numbers, “if we win,” and hoping for some help.

But help never came, there were no wins, and there was no magic.

Losing its final three games and missing last year’s conference playoffs through a tiebreaker has hardened the Niagara University baseball team. So did a midseason swoon that put the Purple Eagles in a position where they may need to end the regular season on a six-game winning streak to make the postseason.

“It’s our turn to leave someone else with a bitter taste in their mouth,” third baseman Trevor Rutkowski said Wednesday. “We have to step up and be man enough to realize we have to win to get in, and not count on other teams to lose.”

Niagara begins a three-game series against rival Canisius with a high noon doubleheader today at Sal Maglie Stadium. The series — and the regular season — concludes with a nine-inning game Friday.

The Purple Eagles are currently in a three-way tie with Rider and Siena for the fourth and final spot in next week’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament. Holding head-to-head tiebreakers with both teams, they control their own destiny.

Nonetheless, Niagara may need to win all three games to extend its season because Rider finishes up with a three-game series against an Iona team that is 3-18 in MAAC play.

Canisius, which mercilessly ended Niagara’s season last year with a sweep at Demske Sports Complex, and won a wild 18-17 non-conference matchup in Buffalo two weeks ago, has already wrapped up the MAAC regular season title and the No. 1 seed in the championship tournament.

Midway through their April 17 home-opening doubleheader, Niagara was 8-2 in MAAC play and in sole possession of second place in the standings. It then lost eight of its next nine conference games.

Before last weekend’s series with Saint Peter’s, coach Rob McCoy told the Purple Eagles they were now in a single-elimination playoff. He then showed a slideshow of photos highlighting the team’s best moments of the season, set to the tune of Eminem’s new single, “I’m Not Afraid.”

“I can guarantee one thing,” McCoy said Wednesday. “The team that I put on the field this week is going to be as determined, as motivated, and as confident as any team that has played here in a while.”

Contact reporter Jonah Bronstein at 282-2311, ext. 2258.

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