Improbable, but not impossible.
That’s the way the Siena College baseball team felt about its upset victory in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference baseball tournament, and that’s the same sentiment the Saints are echoing as they prepare to face TCU in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
The 26-31 Saints fought their way through the losers’ bracket to beat regular-season champion Canisius twice in the MAAC tournament championship round Sunday, and now they will take on the seventh-seeded Horned Frogs (42-15) Friday night at 8 at Lupton Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas. The pairings were announced Monday afternoon.
Also in Siena’s four-team pod are Sam Houston State and Dallas Baptist.
Although Siena has won four previous MAAC titles (1995, 1996, 1997 and 1999), the Saints advanced to NCAA regional play just once, in 1999. They lost play-in games on the other three occasions.
“We know nothing about TCU, other than Gary Holle [Jr., son of a former Siena standout] went there,” said Siena head coach Tony Rossi,
who won his 800th career game during the MAAC championship round. “But we know they always have good pitching. It doesn’t really matter to us who we play.”
Rossi said reaching the NCAA tournament is always a team goal, but he admitted that it is extremely difficult to achieve.
“We promise them [recruits] a good education first,” Rossi said. “A MAAC title and an NCAA tournament berth are also goals of ours. We would also love to get a win in the tournament. That would help our recruiting quite a bit.”
Senior captain John Rooney loves the first-round NCAA matchup.
“I wasn’t expecting TCU, but I’m excited to be playing them,” he said. “I faced some TCU kids this summer. I know the environment will be crazy. We’re so excited for the team and for coach Ross. I grew up watching basketball selection shows, and I always wanted to watch one where my [baseball] team would be included.”
Senior Vinny Citro was named the MAAC tournament MVP and the Louisville Slugger Division I national player of the week by Collegiate Baseball after collecting a pair of three-hit games in the championship round and ripping a Siena tournament-record 14 hits. He batted .700 (14-for-20) for the week with nine runs scored.
“It’s still very surreal to me. It’s a dream come true,” he said about Siena’s second NCAA tournament berth. “You’ve got to pinch me to wake me up. We thought we’d be a lower seed, but we’re playing with a lot of confidence now. To see our name up there on the screen was awesome.”
Junior Matt Gage, a Broadalbin-Perth graduate, said the Saints won’t be intimidated.
“We’ve played with a chip on our shoulder all year. Our team goal is to get a win in the NCAAs.”
TCU, which won its first Big 12 title, is ranked in the top 20 in all four major polls.