The best junior varsity baseball game ever played

Fourteen consecutive scoreless innings are usually enough from a JV pitching staff to get the team on a roll. Usually.

But this game was not like any other game, not at all. Canisius High School’s JV Gold team — the school’s ‘B’ team, if you will — lost by a final of 3-1. The boys, all freshmen, allowed one run in the top of the first inning, played four and a half hours of shutout defense, and then let in two more in the top of the 16th.

The opponent? Canisius High School JV Blue, the ‘A’ team.

Normally, you might think an ‘A’ team would have its way with the ‘B.’ Blue gets first dibs after the varsity and is composed of all sophomores, save the school’s top four freshmen ballplayers. But the combination of wood bats and a large strike zone with the emotional wave of I’ll-show-you-for-cutting-me from the Gold was enough level the playing field.

Even the coach's wife had to leave at some point, and when she did, she pawned the book off on the closest spectator -- me. The coach doesn't use the stats section, and after 12 innings, we had to get creative.

Gold’s closer worked a scoreless seventh, and eighth, and ninth, before being replaced midway through the 10th. When Blue broke through with the occasional single or walk, Gold’s catcher took the momentum right back, shooting down what seemed like half a dozen runners trying to steal second.

It was Gold, the ‘B’ team, that threatened first in extras. A 60-foot swinging bunt down the high grass on Delaware 1’s third base line loaded the bases with one out. Blue coach Tom Coppola nervously arranged his defense. He brought the infield in and moved the left and center fielders up to have a shot throwing out the winning run and the plate. He made a gambit with his right fielder, having him stand over second base to cut off a single up the middle, giving up anything the right-handed batter might drop over the right side of the infield.

Five infielders got ready for the pitch, which was scorched right at Blue’s first baseman. The runner wasn’t being held on with the infield in, and even if he had frozen on the line drive, he didn’t stand a chance. Double play.

Gold’s first baseman wanted his shot to be the hero a few innings later. He wouldn’t get the chance. The 14-year-old came late to the game right from a wedding. By the time the 14th inning rolled around, his dad was back to pick him up for the reception, and it couldn’t wait… meaning the wife was not happy. He was due up fourth in the bottom of the inning, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway — Gold went down 1-2-3.

In the 15th inning, Coppola remarked to Ray Bielanin, the Gold coach, that it was going to take two consecutive hits to win the game. Timely hitting was hard to come by, and both sides had played remarkably clean defense throughout (although it’s a good thing baserunning blunders don’t count as errors).

In the “visitor’s” half of the 16th, the Gold defense at last showed a glimpse of whatever margin it is that separates it from the ‘A’ team. A leadoff single and a walk put the go-ahead run in scoring position with nobody out and a sac bunt moved the runners over.

Bielanin, who had 13 appearances as a relief pitcher in advanced rookie ball in 1989, came over for a look at the score book. The batter was Blue’s 7-hitter, who was 1-for-5 on the day and hadn’t been on base in 10 innings. Instead of walking him to set up a force play at the plate, or a potential inning-ending double play, or both, Bielanin decided to pitch to him.

An underdog can’t always settle for conventional wisdom. Gold got the result it was looking for, just not the execution. The ball was popped up behind the shortstop, who was playing slightly up. Bielanin’s reaction led you to believe he thought the ball was catachable; it landed on the lip of the outfield grass.

The runners stayed put and the bases were loaded. It was like an intentional walk, just without the out.

But that out was one Gold couldn’t give away. The 8-hitter popped up to second which should have been the third out. Instead, it was an infield fly for the second out, and 9-hitter, of all people, made it hurt. A sharply hit grounder up the middle just got past a diving second baseman, scoring two runs Gold knew it wouldn’t get back.

There was hope when Blue’s center fielder made an error trying turn a shoestring catch into a flashy dive in the bottom of the 16th, but Blue, which rode a freshman pitcher for approximately innings 10 through 16, finally showed some reason for it to be the ‘A’ team, outlasting Gold by the slimmest of margins, 3-1.

It was a game no one deserved to lose, even though you might have thought one, the ‘B,’ probably should have.

Give credit to the umpire, who, although inconsistent, stuck around long after the seven innings he was paid for.


Canisius only Big 4 basketball program meeting NCAA regulation

The NCAA released its Academic Progress Rate public report earlier this week, which listed the men’s basketball teams at Niagara, Buffalo and St. Bonaventure all to have APR levels below what it considers acceptable, as well as UB football.

Tom Parrotta and his group of seniors received national recognition for graduating with their Master's degrees in four years.

Instituted in 2005, the APR is a coarse measure of how many student-athletes are on track to graduate. As an attempt to hold institutions accountable as well as individuals, the NCAA punishes schools it grades below an acceptable score of 925. Repeat offenders can lose scholarships, practice time, playoff eligibility or, in a worst-case scenario, recognition as a Division I program.

Each player on a team can score two possible points, one for staying academically eligible and another for returning to school the following year (not transferring) — two key stats the NCAA sees as crucial to graduation rates. The scores for every member on the team are added up, and then divided by the number of possible points the team could have earned, yielding a percentage. The percentage is multiplied by 1,000 (lose the decimal point) to give the score. The 925 level means a team has earned 92.5 percent of the points it could possibly earn.

Joe Mihalich’s Purple Eagles, which scored a perfect 1,000 in 2008-09, dropped below the cutoff to 917 last year. NU will not be punished because the perfect score inflates its multi-year average to 929, just above the limit.

Reggie Witherspoon’s UB basketball team scored a deplorable 885 in 2009-10, the academic year this report was released for. The Bulls will not face penalty because their multi-year average is 943, still above the 925 level.

Down in Olean, the Bonnies came up short at 902, but will not be punished. They are still feeling the effects of the coaching change that brought in Mark Schmidt, when several players transferred out and brought Bona’s APR down to 826 in 2006-07. The school’s multi-year average is still below the limit at 894, but they have already been penalized for the 826 year and, according to a report, St. Bonaventure is within the parameters of a waiver it filed with the NCAA two years ago.

On Main Street, Tom Parrotta’s bunch made the grade with a 936 score, bringing the multi-year APR to 953. The Griffs have never missed the cut and, in fact, no Canisius team in any sport has ever fallen below the 925 limit.

UB football is in a similar situation to St. Bonaventure. Several players left following the departure of Turner Gill in 2010, but the large roster size in football allows the Bulls to absorb several losses. The 2009-10 APR was 918 but Jeff Quinn’s team will not be punished because its multi-year score is 930.

The ice hockey programs at Canisius and Niagara were both well above the limit (1,000 and 977, respectively), and all four women’s basketball programs scored very highly (UB, Canisius, Niagara: 1,000; St. Bonaventure: 981).

It should be noted that these scores say nothing about how well student-athletes are doing in the classroom, just that they remained eligible.

For more, check out the NCAA’s APR page yourself, here for the penalty breakdown, or here for more details on how the APR is calculated.

The Crimson Chins

If you follow hockey in any extent, these two bearded gentlemen need no introduction.

But in case you forgot, these are the Sedin twins, Henrik at left and Daniel on the right. Henrik has the upper hand as the older twin, but Daniel has the honor of being drafted first. Both are by the slimmest of margins (Henrik is six minutes older), but when twins compete, that’s all that matters.

The Vancouver Canucks made Daniel the second overall pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft and Henrik the third. They passed over the likes of Tim Connolly (fifth overall), Martin Havlat (26th), Jordan Leopold (44th), Ryan Miller (138th) and Henrik Zetterberg (210th) to do so, but they haven’t regretted the decision for a second.

The twins may be Swedish, but on the ice, they’re all finish. Daniel is currently leading the playoffs in goals while Henrik is tops in assists. Through 10 NHL seasons, the pair has over 1,300 points between them.

Their ability to find the back of the net sets the twins apart from any other duo in the league right now. But there’s more. Something else makes Daniel and Henrik different from other players, and I think it’s growing on their faces.

Everyone has a playoff beard this time of year. The whiskers on the Sedin twins may not be as thick or as full as the beards sported by other players, but their beards are different. They’re red.

Red hair is nothing new in sports (see: Brain Campbell, Bill Walton or Shaun White — if you consider him an athlete), but especially in hockey, things like hair color are usually hidden by those protective helmets they’re fond of wearing. Seeing two beards this up close and in your face is new and different.

Hold off on you ginger jokes, but I’ve come up with my own nickname for the twins. I’ve started calling them the Crimson Chins.

If you’re familiar with Nickelodeon’s hit cartoon “The Fairly OddParents” you’ll get the reference. The Chin is the favorite comic book character of the show’s protagonist, Timmy Turner — yes, he’s a made-up character within a made-up show. As you could have guessed, his most prominent feature is his shoulders that are so big he’d fall over if he was real chin, which he used to beat up villains on a regular basis.

The orangey-red facial hair you’ll see flying around on Vancouver’s power play tonight wouldn’t exactly pass for crimson, but it’s the reference that counts. I’ve been referring to them singularly as the Crimson Chin (Chins when it’s both) and you are more than welcome to join.

“Wow, did you see that pass from the Crimson Chin?! Nice sauce.”

The Sabres are long gone from Stanley Cup contention, so might as well have some fun with the playoffs, right? Maybe if he’s lucky, the Sedins will let Ryan Kesler pose as Cleft, the Boy Chin Wonder.

Misplaced anger in Ryan Miller

For all the credit we give Miller, we're also very hard on him. That certainly comes with the territory, how much is too much? Jen Fuller/NHLI

The farther removed we get from Buffalo’s playoff exit, the more I find myself appreciating Ryan Miller.

Maybe it’s that we just witnessed consecutive playoff games with 10 goals scored (it was 11 on Tuesday if you want to get technical). I can’t help but watch these games and think, “I’d be furious if that one went in on Miller.”

There were a lot of times this year when Miller would get scored on and we would say, “I need my goalie to stop that one.” Granted, there were some soft goals, but maybe we were being too hard on him.

Goalies are human, just like the forward who turned the puck over and the defenseman who fell down to lead to the goal. They aren’t robots. They don’t automatically save all of the “easy” ones — whatever we decide that term means.

From Game Two of the Boston-Tampa Bay series, I’m thinking specifically of Tampa’s third goal from Vinny Lecavalier. Boston had a two-goal lead midway through the second with a power play to kill. Get through this and they’d be well on their way to locking down the victory and taking the all-important first game.

But what happens? Lecavalier takes a slap shot from the top of circle with minimal traffic and beats Tim Thomas five-hole to bring the score within one. Make no doubt about it, that’s a bad goal at a key point in the game. And if that was my goalie, I’d be ready to rip his head off. You can only yell, “Paddle down!” at your television screen so many times.

In Game Two of the Vancouver-San Jose series, take even the first goal of the game from Logan Couture (who I really like, even for someone who can’t grow a beard). It’s another power-play goal and it was poorly defended, but what was Roberto Luongo doing? Couture has a rolling puck. His options are limited, yet Luongo still found a way to be completely fooled by the head fake and gave the lefty the entire forehand side of the net to shoot into.

Not the Couture goal, but Luongo probably wants this one back, too. Harry How/Getty Images

When it’s not the Sabres who are playing, I get excited when someone scores a goal. (Just ask my brothers, who are getting fed up with me yelling “Score!” every time one goes in.) But if that was Buffalo getting scored on, I would be livid. I would say unrepeatable words and items would be thrown.

This gets me back to the original point, maybe we are too hard on Miller. These things happen, and we can’t expect him to save every single shot. There are plenty of other good goalies out there, and they sure don’t.

Antti Niemi, they said, is the first goalie to reach the conference finals two years in a row with different teams. He’s pretty good and keeping the puck out of the net. Luongo led the Canucks to the President’s Trophy and is the best bet to hold that other big trophy, too. Thomas led the league in save percentage and Dwayne Roloson is doing incredible things for a 41-year-old (did you ever think he’d be here back when he was with the Sabres?).

All four are phenomenal goaltenders, and they let some bad ones in, too. We cannot be saying “I need my goalie to stop that” after every goal we judge Miller might have been able to get a limb on from the comfort of our own homes. You could certainly make the case that Miller is the best goalie in the league — or if want to, the entire world — but if he can’t stop all of those shots, who can?

After Buffalo lost Game Seven, I wrote about how angry Miller should have been that he stole two games for his team and they couldn’t even repay the favor. Not many goalies have had two shutouts in a series and lost it. Was Miller great in every game in that series? No. But if these comparable (perhaps, better) goalies are having the same problems, if not worse, maybe we need to take a step back and realize a good thing when we have it.

Bad goals are part of the game. Just ask the forwards. Martin Broduer is well past his prime and there are no more Dominik Haseks or Patrick Roys out there to put on goaltending clinics 82 times a year. What we have in Ryan Miller is the best the world has to offer right now, and if that isn’t good enough, there’s a problem.

In fact, that probably tells us more about the Sabres actual problems than anything else. Our problem sure isn’t the man between the pipes; it’s what’s in front of him.

Canisius basketball end of the year rundown

Head coach Tom Parrotta and the Canisius brain trust added seven new recruits for next season, with an emphasis on size. That's Parrotta on the right, and going clockwise, Director of Basketball Operations Gabe Michael (back of head), assistant coach Tim Paul (profile view), assistant coach Derrick Worrels (bald head), and associate head coach Rob Norris (middle).

There will be plenty of new faces dressed in Blue and Gold next year at the Koessler Athletic Center.

Tom Parrotta and his staff have signed seven new players for Canisius, meaning less than half of the 13 on the roster are returning members from this year’s team.

Kansas State transfer Freddy Asprilla (6-10, 280) highlights the new signing class, although he will sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Once thought to have quit college basketball for a pro career in his native Colombia, Asprilla seems to have had a change of heart.

He will be joined on the bench by Issac Sosa (6-3, 190), who transferred to Canisius from Central Florida. Sosa is another player with ties to Art Alvarez, president and CEO of the Miami Tropics, one of the top AAU basketball programs in the country. Alvarez has a good relationship with Parrotta and Canisius and had a hand in getting other players in uniform for the Griffs, such as Gaby Belardo. Also notable, but likely unrelated to his decision, is the fact that Sosa majored in finance at UCF, a program Canisius is well-known for.

Both Asprilla and Sosa will have one year of eligibility left to play in the 2012-13 season.

Other additions:

  • The Griffs add size in 6-foot-10 Dutch center Kevin Bleeker, whom Parrotta recruited while watching former Griff Frank Turner play with his pro team in the Netherlands. Bleeker is listed on the U20 roster for BV Noordkop in the Netherlands.
  • Jose Agosto comes to Canisius from Gatlinburg-Pittman High School in Tennessee, with a reputation for rebounding. Standing at 6-6, 215 pounds, Agosto appears to be similar to Elton Frazier (6-6, 208) and Tomas Vazquez-Simmons (6-7, 220), though matching their athleticism is one tall task. Of Puerto Rican decent, Agosto liked the strong Puerto Rican ties at Canisius.
  • Josiah Heath and Harold Washington are the only American recruits. Heath (6-9, 230) hails from Irondequoit High School and is arguably the best player from the Rochester area. He replaces Vazquez-Simmons as the only Western New Yorker on the roster, which was important to him because he wanted a local school where his family could watch him play. Washington (6-1, 175) is a Maryland native coming to CC after finishing his two years at Cecil College (also in Maryland), which took sixth place in the national junior college tournament this year. He was reported to be scouted by Big East school Providence and MAAC opponent Loyola.
  • The last addition to the team is Franklin Milian, who comes to Canisius from Our Savior New American School, the same high school as Marial Dhal. There seems to be little information out there about the 6-4 guard, but he’s money from behind the arc with his shirt off.

Alshwan Hymes is now Canisius' most experienced player, with 54 games played.

The Griffs knew they’d be losing five seniors to graduation. Julius Coles, Greg Logins, Rob Goldsberry, Frazier and Vazquez-Simmons leave Canisius with their names scattered across the record book. Logins, Coles and Frazier have all expressed interest in playing professionally overseas. Logins will attend an overseas combine camp and has signed with the same agent as Turner.

Freshman Ashton Khan, who was suspended earlier this year for a dorm room theft, will not return to Canisius next year and is looking for an opportunity with another school. David Santiago, who was also suspended for the theft, will be on next year’s team.

Rokas Gricius, who was set to be one of two seniors on next year’s roster, has several internship and job offers and decided not to play basketball next season. He already began work on his master’s courses this spring semester.

It is also reported that Eric Kindler will not return for the Griffs next season. He is rumored to be transferring to a school closer to his hometown of Camp Hill, Pa. Kindler’s departure has not been officially announced but the Griffs do not have any scholarships left to give.

Faced with limited playing time, Rokas Gricius opted to pursue other opportunities.

Next year’s schedule will be announced later in the summer but will include 18 MAAC games; a game in Harrisonburg, Va. against James Madison, as a return game for the 2010 BracketBuster; another meeting with Lamar University (Beaumont, Texas), who recently hired Pat Knight, son of Bob Knight who was fired by Texas Tech this season; as well as likely meetings with St. Bonaventure and UB, although a Big 4 tournament is still a few years off.

The last game in Canisius’ contract with Syracuse University was this year, but the Griffs are likely to pick up games with another top-tier school, which come with a large paycheck.