POMONA, N.Y. — For the second year in a row, the Marist Red Foxes faced off against the Canisius Golden Griffins as their first opponent of the MAAC Championships. Baseball is the one sport where extended rest can be detrimental, and with Marist coming off a nine day layoff, rust was inevitable. Despite the Red Foxes taking the early lead, Canisius defeated Marist 12-1 in seven innings.
Senior Erubiel Candelario was entrusted with the ball for the opening game. The All-MAAC first team pitcher allowed 10 earned runs to the Golden Griffins back in April, but pitched to a 1.31 ERA in the four starts since.
With two very offensively potent teams playing, defense and pitching would be what would dictate this game. The Red Foxes were able to strike first after redshirt freshman Marco Ali hit a ground ball that was booted by third baseman Gibson Krzeminski, allowing senior Johnny Decker to score from third.
While a defensive miscue gifted Marist their first run of the game, an error of their own was all Canisius needed to jumpstart their offense. Junior Dylan Hoy misplayed a ball in the fourth inning which led to four unearned runs being scored by the Golden Griffins. Following a sacrifice fly and a run-scoring single, All-MAAC first team second baseman Max Grant blasted a two-run home run to right center field to cap off the four-spot.
Candelario was dominant early with six strikeouts through the first three innings. However, his pitch command was not his sharpest today, allowing five walks in 4⅔ innings. The constant baserunners would get the best of him in the fifth, when catcher Trevor Henneman abruptly ended his outing with a towering three-run home run to extend the Golden Griffins lead to six.
“Obviously Erubiel struggled a little bit, I mean he fought through and then all of a sudden two big hits kind of just opened the game up,” head coach Chris Tracz said.
Canisius would tack on five additional runs in the sixth and seventh innings to effectively put the game out of reach. And with Marist failing to score in the bottom of the seventh, the NCAA mercy rule was implemented.
The Red Foxes fell in a disappointing performance, but would have a chance at redemption against the Niagara Purple Eagles. Unfortunately for them, in a nearly four-hour game that ended after midnight, two-seeded Marist would fall to Niagara 7-4 in a painful day for the Red Foxes.
Marist was one of the best offensive teams in the MAAC during the regular season, yet were held to just one unearned run against Canisius. With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the second, Ali gave Marist the run support they needed. With just one swing, the third baseman tripled Marists’ entire run total from the previous game with a bases-clearing double. All-MAAC first team catcher Gene Napolitano added another run with a pop fly double that split the outfielders in the Red Foxes first real display of quality hitting all tournament.
From a pitching perspective, this game almost mirrored the Canisius game. Three scoreless innings by the starting pitcher, followed by the opposing offense coming alive in the middle innings and knocking them out after 4⅔ innings. Consecutive hits to leadoff the fifth cut Marists’ lead to two and then a Benny Serrano two-run triple tied it all up at four. Next up was catcher Matt Ward who drove the outfielder in immediately after with a run-scoring single to give Niagara their first lead of the game.
“We had so much forward momentum over the last month – you can’t really hold onto it on a nine day layoff,” Tracz said. “Baseball is a rhythm sport and we were out of rhythm and credit to Canisius and Niagara. But you know I didn’t do a good enough job of getting them prepared and keeping the kind of edge that we needed.”
The Purple Eagles tacked on a run a piece in the sixth and seventh innings to increase the Niagara lead to three. Marist had their opportunities to get back into the game, including a bases loaded chance in the seventh, but could not convert. This day was just an off-day for one of the most offensively viable teams in the conference.
“We had one bad day and the season’s over, after fifteen great days in a row. In a tournament, you can’t have a bad day and that’s obviously what you saw today,” Tracz said.
Marist finished the regular season 29-15 in one of their best seasons in program history. Eight different players earned either All-MAAC first team, second team or rookie team, while Tracz was named MAAC coach of the year. The Red Foxes had a nation-high 11-game winning streak in a truly magical year that ended in heartbreak.
“I’m glad it hurts me, god, it hurts them because we invested a lot into it,” Tracz said. “I think about starting this thing on September 1st and it’s May 26th, it’s a long time. There’s a lot of ups and downs and we did it together and I’m just proud of the group.”
Edited by Ricardo Martinez
Photo from Marist Athletics