Canadian baseball rush boosts Canisius into NCAA tournament
As the NCAA baseball tournament begins today, 11 teams will have at least one Canadian-born player on their rosters. With 12 players born north of the border, Canisius features more Canadians than any other team still in the hunt for the championship.
Canisius baseball coach Mike McRae has maintained strong connections to Canadian baseball throughout his 11 years on the job, an effort that has paid dividends.
Several of his players have been selected in the Major League Baseball draft in recent years. Major League relief pitcher John Axford has enjoyed the most notable career among former Golden Griffins.
Professional scouts are frequently at Canisius games and practices.
"We had an intrasquad scrimmage last fall on a Friday afternoon and I think we had six different organizations represented," McRae said.
That presence provides incentive to his players.
"If they perform, they'll have the opportunity to go to the next level."
Despite a winter that lingered well into April, Canisius was able to play 62 games this season, more than any team in the NCAA tournament.
"We want to play. We don't get better sitting at home and doing nothing."
Some of those games took place while winning last weekend's Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament in Fishkill, New York. They lost the first game of the double-elimination event before winning five consecutive games on their way to the title.
"The irony in this is we almost got eliminated by traffic down there. Game two, we ended up arriving late to the ballpark because we couldn't get off the Thruway. Then, once we did, we got stuck in traffic trying to go a back way," McRae said.
His team plays Friday at 7 p.m. at Missouri State, the ninth-ranked team in the country.
Some of McRae's players were members of his team from 2013 that opened the NCAA tournament against the number one team in the country, North Carolina. He hopes that experience helps tonight.
"I think one of the biggest hurdles we had to overcome a couple years ago was just feeling comfortable we could compete at that level. That probably took two to three innings," McRae recalled.
"We had a chance to win that game against the number one team in the country. We were down a run in the eighth and we had bases loaded, one out, but we just couldn't put it together against UNC's All-American closer."