Bulls set new Precedent, Reach Tournament Semis
Published: Saturday, May 26, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 19:11
A few weeks ago, baseball head coach Ron Torgalski planned on spending his Memorial Day weekend on the recruiting trail.
But the Bulls (20-36, 10-16 Mid-American Conference) had another plan for themselves and their coach, and Torgalski found himself still in the dugout, with a berth in the MAC Championship game on the line against top-seeded Kent State (40-17, 24-3 MAC), on Friday.
Buffalo’s season ended with an 8-3 loss, but its miraculous tournament run will be remembered.
On the strength of a win over Bowling Green (20-33, 9-18 MAC) and an Akron (17-38, 10-17 MAC) loss, the Bulls backed into the MAC tournament on the final day of the regular season, earning the No. 8 seed.
The Bulls were still heavy underdogs, going a combined 6-14 against the other seven teams, and winless against the three teams on their side of the bracket. Not many people predicted that the Bulls would get too far, but all that meant nothing to the Bulls, who finally put together performances that they had been on the brink of all season.
They played with a chip on their shoulder, and after dropping their opening game to Kent State, rallied to win the school’s first-ever baseball tournament game, eliminating Ohio (28-29, 16-11 MAC) on Thursday. The Bulls went on to beat Western Michigan (26-29, 14-12 MAC) on Friday and found themselves three wins away from a MAC title and one of the final four teams when Kent State eliminated them on Friday.
“I’m sure most people thought: ‘Buffalo, eh whatever, they’re going to be two and out’ and for our kids to come out and compete they way they did and play the way they did, it was great,” Torgalski said. “They didn’t back down from anybody and we played good baseball. It was great for the program.”
The Bulls lost more then their share of tough games this year, going 3-11 in one-run games and struggling to get their offense and pitching to perform well at the same time. Torgalski repeatedly challenged his team to step up in big situations, and the Bulls finally did when it mattered most.
With their backs against the wall in a do-or-die first-round game against an Ohio team that had swept Buffalo earlier in the season, junior first baseman Alex Baldock doubled home the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning, keeping the Bulls’ conference title hopes alive one more day.
“The last week or two he was finally getting back into the groove and back to where he was last year and he swung the bat the best I’ve seen him swing it all season,” Torgalski said. “He is a guy that I wish we would have had for the whole year because he made our offense that much stronger.”
The following day sophomore pitcher Michael Burke took the mound against Western Michigan and effectively shut down the Broncos for eight innings. Meanwhile the Bulls’ suddenly-potent offense tallied 10 runs and took advantage of Western Michigan’s two errors, scoring three unearned runs.
Later in the day, as the Bulls marched into the semis against Kent State, Buffalo jumped out to an early lead in the bottom of the first when junior outfielder Matt Pollock scored on a Jason Kanzler double and junior catcher Tom Murphy homered, plating Kanzler and putting the Bulls up 3-0.
Murphy’s home run was his 13th of the season, a new Buffalo single-season record.
“We wanted to show people that we were better then some teams in the tournament,” Torgalski said. “We thought we were better then an eight seed and that it wasn’t just enough for us to make it to the postseason; we wanted to win games.”
The Bulls’ journey through the regular season and into the MAC tournament has been historical, and perhaps it could prove to be the boost that the Buffalo baseball program needs to get to the next level.
Torgalski was excited that his team finally got a chance to play in the tournament and thought they had finally put it all together down the stretch. He also noted what a top-four conference tournament finish meant for the program: aside from bragging rights, it puts Buffalo on the map for recruits looking at MAC schools.
“I’ve gotten a ton of phone calls from former players that are following it and just think it’s the greatest thing in the world that we made it,” Torgalski said. “For the guys that were able to experience it, they can go back and say: ‘We want to do this again because it was a great experience.’”
For a group of guys that have seemed special to their fans from the beginning of the season, the still-young Bulls have set the bar high for themselves for the next few years as they look to make a bigger splash in tournament and national play. For the first time since the Bulls played their first Division-I game in 2000 (when the program was re-instated), mediocre results seem to be no longer acceptable.