College Baseball-MAAC Tournament
Rider University 4, Canisius College 3
TRENTON— Junior Sean Olson (Vineland, N.J./St. Augustine Prep) had three runs batted in to lead Rider to victory over the top seed, Canisius, in the first round of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship tournament, held at Waterfront Park in front of a crowd of 938. “Winning that first one is huge,” Olson said. “It’s tough coming back through the loser’s bracket. The crowd today was a great motivation.”
“Considering it is a four-team tournament, it is very important to win the first game,” said Rider head coach Barry Davis. “It puts you one win away from playing in the championship game, and that’s the goal. We’re excited. This was a big one, and hopefully we’ll have a few more big ones.”
Olson, a first team All-MAAC selection, hit a two-run single in the top of the seventh inning to break a 2-2 tie, scoring sophomore Matt McCollum (Tabernacle, N.J./Shawnee) and sophomore Eric Woodrow (Hamilton, N.J./Hamilton West), who both reached base on singles. McCollum had two of Rider’s 10 hits and scored twice.
“I felt like I was getting some good swings on some good pitches,” said Olson, who now has 50 RBI on the season, second most in the MAAC and the most by a Bronc since the 2002 season.
Junior James Hayes (Sunrise, Fla./Piper), the MAAC Relief Pitcher of the Year and the New Jersey Division I Player of the Year, pitched the final two and two-thirds innings for the save, his 10th of the season and the 25th of his career. “I’m glad I got a chance to get in and close it out,” said Hayes. “I threw a lot of change ups and a lot of strikes, that was the key.”
“Hayes was outstanding,” Davis said. Hayes struck out three and allowed just one single and no walks. “He closed the game in the seventh, closed it in the eighth and closed it in the ninth. He’s a gamer and he wanted the ball, and when he throws like that he’s tough to beat.”
As the starting right fielder, Hayes also singled and stole a base and now has 34 stolen bases, six shy of the Rider single-season record of 40 that was set in 1967. The single was his 72nd hit of the year, second most in the MAAC.
Canisius (40-12) cut the lead to 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning on a sacrifice fly by the first batter Hayes faced.
McCollum led off the fifth inning with a single and, following an error and a sacrifice bunt, scored on a ground out by Olson to tie the score at 2-2.
Canisius took a 2-1 lead in the third inning when Kevin Mailloux doubled and scored from second base on a sacrifice fly to deep center field.
In the top of the first inning, freshman Mason Heyne (Shrewsbury, Pa./Susquehannock) hit an RBI double, his 16th, to give Rider (27-25), the fourth seed, a 1-0 lead, and then began a 5-unassisted-3 double play in the bottom of the inning.
Canisius tied the score at 1-1 in the bottom of the first inning on two walks and three hits, leaving three runners on base.
Junior Mike Petrowski (Hamilton Square, N.J./Steinert) pitched six and one-third innings, striking out four while allowing three earned runs. “Mike threw fine,” Davis said. “He did what he did all year, kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win.”
“I gave it my all from the very first inning, so I didn’t go as far as I usually do,” Petrowski said. “I ran out of gas a little bit, but we have the best closer around.”
Although Petrowski was Rider’s top pitcher this year, the victory Thursday was just his second of the year. “It feels like the last time I won was my sophomore year,” Petrowski said, “but it feels great. I don’t care if this was my only win all year, this feels great.”
Petrowski has pitched at Waterfront Park in the past, for Steinert High School. “I pitched here three or four times,” Petrowski remembered, “and that was a big help. This is one of the top fields on the East Coast so it’s great to pitch here. We won a State tournament here, but this was the best win I’ve had here.”
The victory was Rider’s first in MAAC post-season play since 2002.
Rider will now play Siena Friday. “We put ourselves in position to be in position,” Davis said. “We’re playing a team that is about as hot as the ’27 Yankees.” Siena (28-24) has won its last 11 games, including three against Rider. “We won’t be overconfident, I can tell you that,” Davis said.
In the first game of the tournament the third seed, Siena defeated the second seed, Manhattan (31-19-1) with a tournament record 24 runs in a 24-3 victory. Siena hit three home runs, including a pair of grand slams in the third and fourth innings. “I hope they used all of their runs up,” Davis said. “They are very good and are playing very well.”
The Championship round begins Saturday at 1pm.
The winner of the MAAC tournament advances to one of 16, four-team NCAA Regional Tournaments.
Rider is competing in its sixth MAAC baseball tournament and second in the last three years. Rider reached the MAAC Title game in 2002, 2001 and 1999.