Broncs fall to Canisius in 2022 MAAC Baseball Championship final

By Carolo Pascale

After winning the 2021 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Baseball Championship, the Broncs found themselves back in the 2022 final. But this one ended in disappointment, as Rider wasn’t able to repeat as champions, falling to Canisius 9-5 on May 29. 

The Broncs were the first five seed in MAAC history to make the final, after posting a barely over .500 record of 25-24 in the regular season. Junior outfielder Brendan O’Donnell broke the program’s single season record of 17 home runs in the tournament, going yard 20 times throughout the year. 

“I thought we competed,” said Head Coach Barry Davis, “You got guys throwing on no days rest and doing a good job giving us a chance. We didn’t quit, we played all nine innings. There was really nothing left on the field and that’s all I can ask.”

How the Broncs got here

With the Broncs being the five seed, the first game of their attempted title defense was against No. 4 Monmouth on May 25. The Broncs easily bested the Hawks 5-1, which included a three-run fourth inning. Redshirt senior utility Jake Barbiere hit a home run in the ninth inning of the game. Graduate student pitcher Joe Papeo threw nine strikeouts in six innings to help the Broncs move on to the second round.

The Broncs next test was one of their toughest, in a finals rematch of last year against No. 1 Fairfield. The Stags looked to get revenge against the Broncs for stealing the 2021 championship from them, but the Broncs prevailed yet again in a 4-3, 12 inning win on May 26. A second three-run fourth inning helped the Broncs, and a sacrifice fly by junior catcher Socrates Bardatsos allowed junior infielder Jack Winsett to score, and pushed the Broncs forward in the tournament.

Rider then faced Canisius in the third round of the tournament, but fell 11-9 on May 27. O’Donnell and Bardatsos both hit home runs, with O’Donnell’s being his record-tying 17th home run. The Broncs actually held the lead until the sixth, when the Griffins scored four runs, and never gave the lead back. The Broncs used five pitchers in the game.

Then the skies clouded, and an obscene amount of rain put a hold on the tournament as the Broncs waited to find out who they would play for the chance to make it back to the final. It took a long time, but Niagara made the comeback in an instant 10 inning, 19-14 classic, defeating Fairfield. 

The Broncs did not start their game against Niagara until 11:02 p.m. on the night of the 27th. The game was then delayed after four innings and didn’t restart until 7:45 p.m. of May 28. 

“You try to pay attention to everything and try to stay ahead of the curve when you’re in a rain delay and trying to work with the MAAC committee,” said Davis of the rain delays. “That’s why you practice all year and you have days where you have to adjust. We did a good job. We handled it well.”

The Broncs then made their own comeback with a five-run eighth inning to win 11-8. O’Donnell hit his record-breaking 18th home run of the season, and included a second one to put him at 19 on the year. Winsett also hit a home run in the game. Graduate student pitcher Cal Stalzer earned his second win of the tournament with 1 strikeout in 1.2 innings.

‘We gave everything we had’

Beating Niagara granted the Broncs a spot in the 2022 MAAC Baseball Championship final, getting to the big game for the second straight year, and the fourth in Davis’s time at the helm. The first three of those times, the Broncs were crowned champions.

Rider would face the only team that beat them in the tournament: the Canisius Golden Griffins. The final was set for 11 a.m. on May 29, less than 14 hours from when the Niagara game ended. Rider had to win two games against the Griffins if they wanted to repeat as champions.

With the Broncs on short rest, it would take an incredible amount of effort to beat Canisius. The Griffins and the Broncs came out quick, with each scoring two runs through those first three innings. 

One of Rider’s runs again came off the bat of the Broncs’ bomber, Brendan O’Donnell, who went yard for the 20th time this season, completely rewriting the Rider record books. 

“It’s definitely something that means a lot to me,” said O’Donnell. “It’s a direct result of hard work paying off. It means a lot to be able to do that and I’m thankful for all of the help to be able to do so.”

After the third inning, it was clear how much the short rest had taken a toll on the Broncs, giving up five runs in the fifth inning.  The Griffins had a 7-2 lead, which they extended in the eighth inning with two more runs, putting the Broncs in a seven-run hole. 

It was do-or-die in the top of the ninth, and Rider did fight back, scoring three runs, which included a two-run home run from junior first baseman Luke Lesch. But it wouldn’t be enough as the Griffins were able to close out the game with a final score of 9-5, and win the 2022 MAAC Baseball Championship.

The Broncs used six pitchers throughout the game, a telltale sign of the short rest that the Broncs had been dealt. 

“I think the issue this year was we were just depleted early. We had some injuries and guys never really got back to 100%,” said Davis. “So we pitched with the short end of the bullpen and a couple guys that we needed to perform well, didn’t have great years. We went with the guys who gave us the best opportunity to win. In some cases it’s just not enough, but to get to the final game is certainly something to be proud of.”

Despite the loss, the Broncs have tons to be pleased with. One being the emergence of O’Donnell, who has blossomed into a true powerhouse at the plate. His 20 home runs placed him at the top of the MAAC, and 25th across all of Division I baseball. He also ranked first in the conference in RBIs with 58, and fourth in slugging percentage at .630.

A large majority of the core is also returning for next season, and it shows as the Broncs have already placed championship expectations on themselves for the 2023 season. 

“The goal is to be here every year and I think that our lineup is definitely going to be better than it was this year,” said O’Donnell. “We have all the experience from being here back-to-back, and it doesn’t matter who it is, experience means everything and I think we’ll be back next year.”

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