By Tim Schmitt
BUFFALO — Thursday’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference baseball doubleheader between Canisius and Niagara had significant seeding ramifications for the host Griffs. Coach Mike McRae’s team all but locked down second place in the conference’s upcoming tournament with a sweep, using rallies in both to get the upper hand.
But Friday was all about the rivalry.
With little to play for, Canisius weathered an early charge from the Purple Eagles, then hammered Niagara’s two best pitchers at Demske Sports Complex, finishing with 17 hits, 17 runs and one convincing three-game sweep of its arch-rivals, beating NU by a 17-6 count.
In the process, NU’s once-solid postseason footing seems to be eroding. When the week started, Niagara needed only one win in three games, or a single loss from either Marist or Rider in their three-game sets to earn a berth. The Eagles have exhausted all three of their chances, while Marist and Rider each opened their series’ with a victory.
And Canisius (33-20 overall, 16-8 MAAC) was happy to push the Eagles closer to the ledge, scoring three runs through the first four batters it sent to the plate against Niagara ace Michael Kellar.
“This was more about rivalry than anything,” said Canisius’ Kevin Mailloux, who had three hits, including a towering two-run blast in the seventh inning off reliever Adam Wagner. “There were some words exchanged. This is a heated battle. And that’s what we wanted to do. Win like that.”
Things looked good early for Niagara (20-35, 14-10) as Jason Cramer’s single down the right field line brought home Trevor Rutkowski and Tim Cozier in the first inning off Canisius starter Mike Goemans.
The lead was short-lived, though, as Canisius followed with five runs in the bottom of the first off Kellar. Considering that NU’s starter entered the game with a 6-0 record and in contention for MAAC Pitcher of the Year, Kellar’s early struggles were not what the Purple Eagles expected.
NU did bounce back with three more runs in the second as Cam Stykemain’s two-run single was the biggest hit.
But after that, the Niagara bats went silent, with just a single run in the third and none the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, the Purple Eagles committed four errors, including three from third baseman Rutkowski, and never really threatened after Canisius put up three in the fifth.
“We can’t outhit teams,” NU coach Rob McCoy said. “We need to beat them with pitching and defense. That’s what we’re good at. I thought we hit the ball pretty well all series, but they just beat us.”
Brian Deering and Stephen Smith each had two hits for the Purple Eagles, who must now wait to see if they’ll be playing in the MAAC Tournament.
If they do, it’s possible they’ll meet Canisius again. And the rivalry will get hotter.
“”I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve,” McCoy said. “Remember, we’ve seen their best. They haven’t seen our best.”
Contact sports editor Tim Schmitt at 282-2311, ext. 2266.