Baseball narrowly misses 1 seed; Kanzler, Torgalski win awards
Led by Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Bulls ready for MAC Tournament
Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 20:05
The baseball team sat two outs from clinching its first-ever Mid-American Conference regular season title and the No. 1 overall seed in the upcoming MAC Tournament.
The Bulls held a 4-3 lead over Bowling Green. With the squad’s relief ace, senior pitcher River McWilliams, on the mound and a runner on second, Buffalo seemed to be in a good position to earn its third sweep of the season and make program history.
McWilliams, however, couldn’t come through, allowing a game-tying single and eventually a game-winning triple as the Bulls (32-22, Mid-American Conference) lost their season finale to the Falcons and their hold on the MAC regular season title to Kent State. The Bulls will be the second seed and will face seventh-seeded Toledo in the MAC Tournament at 4 p.m. on Wednesday.
Despite falling 5-4 on Saturday, Buffalo won on Thursday and Friday to become the only team in the MAC to win all nine conference series this season.
The Bulls showed strengths in all aspects of the game in the series, starting with an offensive display on Thursday. Led by freshman Tyler Mautner and junior Mike Burke, who each went 3 for 5 with four RBI, every player in the order had a hit. Buffalo won the game 10-4.
On Friday, Buffalo displayed strong defense and pitching. Despite falling behind in first and seventh innings, the Bulls rallied to tie the game in the second and take the lead in the eighth.
Bowling Green tied the game and forced extra innings, but the Bulls quickly scored a run in the top of the 10th to go ahead for good, winning 4-3.
Head coach Ron Torgalski said his team’s pitching staff did a good job of working efficiently so they would be well rested for the tournament.
The Bulls’ strong finish wasn’t enough to hold off Kent State, which has been on a tear since being swept by the Bulls in April. The Flashes, who have won the past four MAC Tournaments, have won 15 of their last 17 games.
Coming into the weekend, Kent State sat a half-game behind the Bulls and swept Akron (15-37, 10-16 MAC) to win the title by 1/2 game.
The Flashes played one more game than the Bulls due to a rainout on April 28 against the Zips. The final matchup was rained out after Buffalo won the first two games of the series.
The Bulls have overcome a litany of low expectations this season.
“We knew we weren’t the 12th team in the league like everybody picked us to be,” Torgalski said. “We knew we were better than a lot of teams.”
After nine seasons without an appearance, the Bulls are now in Avon, Ohio, preparing for their second straight trip to the MAC Tournament. Last season, the Bulls clinched their spot as the eighth seed on the final day of the regular season.
The Bulls’ side of the bracket features Northern Illinois (22-32, 16-11 MAC) and the Falcons (20-28, 13-14 MAC) along with the Rockets (22-31, 13-14 MAC). The Bulls will not face Kent State until the championship game, if each team makes it that far.
Torgalski feels this year’s team has a similar attitude to last year’s, which finished one win from the championship game. He said the difference is the experience this team has brought back from last season.
On Tuesday, Torgalski and senior outfielder Jason Kanzler were named MAC Coach of the Year and MAC Player of the Year, respectively.
Torgalski has been a coach with the team since the program was reinstated in 1999 and the head coach since 2007.
Kanzler played in 54 games this season, hitting .322 with 20 stolen bases and a MAC-leading 10 home runs. Kanzler was selected for the preseason All-MAC second team.
It has been a landmark regular season for the Bulls, and although they came up just short of a regular season title, their ultimate goal still lies within their grasp.
“I told the kids they’ve got nothing to be ashamed of,” Torgalski said. “They need to be proud of what they’ve accomplished so far, but we’re not done.”