Sullivan: Mike Steffan takes Canisius to the NCAA match with unforgettable senior moments.

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Matt Mazurek has gained many victories in his baseball profession. Canisius’ head coach believes there is just one memorable second of each championship recreation. A play that completely captures the emotional journey of a single at-bat or a particular staff.

The second for his staff got here final Sunday in Pomona, New York, when sophomore Mike Steffan, a sophomore in fifth 12 months, pounded a two-pointer to make the rating 2-2 and lead the Golden Griffins to the MAAC Championship on a date with Miami. Friday afternoon on the NCAA Tournament.

Mazurek recollects taking a look at Steffan’s household when Steffan took the lead within the fifth inning, the latest five-hit streak in a sequence of clutch hits this season. It appeared good for Steffan, a devoted participant and scholar for 5 years at Canisius, to have that storybook second.

“It really was,” Mazurek stated after observe at Demske on Tuesday. “It was great for Mike. It elicits your feelings, because he is looking back on the happiness of everyone involved in the family. It’s not just the hit, it’s a miniature five-year run, especially for the kid.”

The previous 5 years have been eventful for the Griffs. In 2018, Majurek gained the MAAC Tournament in his first 12 months as supervisor. ’19 gained the common season however misplaced the convention match. COVID ended shortly after the beginning of the 2020 season. Last 12 months, the pandemic was a relentless distraction and so they had been as soon as once more missing in tournaments.

As a highschool scholar in Williamsville East, Steffan has carried out all of this collectively. The turbulence began fairly rapidly. In reality, from the second he arrived in freshman 12 months.

“In freshman year, on our first day on campus, we had a meeting,” Steffan recalled. “Old coach Mike McRae walked into the meeting room and said: He stays there for about two minutes and then tells him to leave.”

McRae has introduced Canisius to prominence for 13 years as a headman. He left as an assistant at VCU. He left a strong roster and a pure inheritor to Mazurek, a former Griffs baseball star and school sports activities Hall of Fame member.

Stefan, who has two uncles (Paul and Tom Stefan) who performed baseball at Canicius, stated: “Mazurek is the one who signed me. “So there was no question in my head whether I should stick with it or go somewhere else. He earned my trust and I earned his trust. I thought he would get along very well.”

That’s to not say there isn’t any assure. Majurek had 43 gamers competing for 35 locations in 2018. Stefan wore a pink shirt as a freshman. “He showed up to practice every possible opportunity, and he stayed there,” Mazurek stated.

Matt Mazurek has led Canisius to 2 MAAC match titles since buying Mike McRae in 2018. (Mary Margaret Johnson/Minus Better)

Stefan began the 2019 season because the Griffs’ second hitter, however solely .217 hits. Over the following two seasons, he moved out and in of the lineup. In 2021, he contracted the coronavirus early within the season and missed 5 weeks. His batting common dropped to 0.167 over the 12 months and was solely .209 in 21 video games.

There was no query that he could be again for a fifth season. Stefan knew he had extra to himself. So did Mazurek, who satisfied Mike he would turn out to be a daily in 2022. Whether at first base, designated hitter or outfielder, he was going to be a part of the Griffs lineup.

“Last year, I didn’t do what I believed I could do,” Stefan stated. “It has been a wierd 12 months as a result of corona virus. It was up and down, back and front. It was tough to catch the rhythm. That’s one of many causes I wished to come back. I wished to show that I may do what I used to be doing for myself and for this program.

“I wanted to come back and play with my best friends and win,” he stated. “Coach Mazurek gave me the freedom to go out and do my job. It was fun to just go out and play baseball and do what I loved doing when I was 5 or 6 years old.”

it confirmed Stefan instantly affirmed that this 12 months could be totally different. In the opening sequence towards Pittsburgh in Port Charlotte, Florida, he posted 17 of 9 hits and a couple of residence runs because the Griffs break up 4 video games. Stefan had 4 hits and 5 RBIs within the finale. It’s one among 3 times he is pushed 5 runs in a single recreation this season.

Stefan blossomed right into a pink shirt senior. He has a .339 batting common, 41 runs, 9 residence runs, and a team-leading 56 RBI in fourth place within the MAAC. He was ninth within the league in slugging proportion (.547), tenth in on-base proportion (.432), and fourth in OPS (.979).

“Last year was a big challenge for my son and for everyone,” his father Jim Steffan stated. “So it was good to see him come again and have an excellent 12 months. It culminated in that championship recreation and was an enormous hit on the proper time.

“It’s positively cool as a guardian, however it’s just for this system and Canisius, as a result of I do know that each one the boys face a problem just like the one Mike confronted. It was superior to see them overcome it and obtain their targets. .”

Jim Steffan was on the MAAC Championship together with his spouse Sue and daughter Rachel, a star on the UB softball staff. Mike has an older brother Matt, who was a hockey star at Will East. Rick Ruggiero, who coached Steffan and a number of other different gamers on the Canisius and Niagara roster, was additionally there to cheer the locals.

Canicius’ Mike Stefan stated he may return subsequent season however has already accepted a job from Microsoft. (Courtesy of Canisius Athletics)

Majurek stated he noticed one thing stick out. There had been all these little indicators, as if the 99-year-old grandmother within the nursing residence was assured her victory as Griffs assistant coach’s spouse washed her hair and prayed for her staff.

But an enormous a part of it was the staff’s shut ties and aggressive nature. Loads of that got here from veteran management. Steffan stated Mazurek is just not attempting to present management to the staff. He likes to see males take possession.

“There is no captain on our team,” Steffan stated. “We have a management function that pushes the staff’s mood and goes forwards and backwards between managers and gamers, taking up management roles with out titles. It is what brings us collectively.

“We have a very good staff. Our staff chemistry is excessive. We are at all times having enjoyable on and off the pitch. We do the whole lot collectively. There are not any small factions. You can hang around and chat with anybody on this staff. “

Often it’s about learning in school. Stefan has been on the MAAC switch staff for the fourth 12 months in a row. He is a finance main. For the previous two years, he has been concerned with the Golden Griffin Fund, an funding administration course that teaches college students about capital markets.

“Last year he was a GA there,” Mazurek stated. He is their advisor. They name him ‘Professor’ Stefan. He goes again to the elevate at 6 o’clock on daily basis after observe early.”

Imagine a participant within the classroom serving to their teammates enhance their GPA and taking them residence on diamonds. There isn’t any must designate a captain with such management. At one time, Steffan was captain of the hockey and baseball groups of Williamsville East.

Willamsville East hockey coach Mike Torrillo, who performed hockey for the Griffs and nonetheless holds a profession scoring report, stated: “Michael had excellent leadership. “I believe he may go on to the following degree of hockey. He was so good, yeah .”

Many faculties and universities supply lip service to the idea of scholar athletes. Steffan is an instance. He stated his dad and mom emphasised teachers and that his older brother had a great function mannequin.

“We are very proud of him,” stated Jim Steffan. “He graduated with a 4.0. As an undergraduate and graduate student, to take on the challenge of baseball, I know I couldn’t do it. I attribute to him all the achievements in the world. Canisius did a great job supporting him in return.”

Stefan may truly return for a sixth season underneath the NCAA provisions that granted all winter and spring athletes a further 12 months’s qualification after the 2020 season was suspended as a result of pandemic. But he continues to be prepared to hitch the true world.

“I already got a job,” he stated. “I work at Microsoft in the finance department. Moving across the country to Seattle. I am a financial cycle analyst.”

He is now 23. The time has come. But for somebody who has been a fan of sports activities since childhood, it is exhausting to step again from school baseball. Because he is aware of he can do yet one more 12 months.

“It is. It really is.” Steffan, who hopes to settle again in Buffalo sometime, stated, “Especially after that, you need to work on daily basis for the remainder of your life. Being in a position to get a grasp’s diploma and play 5 years is not as thrilling because it sounds right here.

“The reason I’m back is because of last week. I came back to get the ring. It went perfectly.”

He agreed that you just could not write a greater script. Unless, after all, the Griffs make an incredible match this weekend. At midday on Friday they play host Miami within the four-team Coral Gables space. Canisius will play both Arizona or Miss Ole in a double-elimination match at Alex Rodriguez Park on Saturday.

Steffan wished Canisius to be deployed to Miami. Talk in regards to the good ending. He has Cuban roots. His maternal grandmother, Marta Uriarte, was born in Havana, the place she grew up earlier than emigrating to the United States. Mike follows him carefully, however has kinfolk in Miami, together with his uncle who’s by no means seen him play in particular person.

“It’s a good angle,” stated Jim Steffan, Moog’s Director of Management Programs. “I go to Miami, where there are a lot of Cubans, there are Cuban restaurants, and there are Cubans. It will be interesting for his relatives to be on the side of Canisius.”

The sixth seed of the 64-team match, Miami is the enduring school baseball program. The Hurricanes gained two nationwide titles within the Eighties underneath Ron Fraser. During his 30-year tenure as supervisor, he was acknowledged at nationwide sporting occasions for taking school baseball to the following degree.

But Canicius is just not afraid. Griffs is now taking part in with the home cash. They shared 4 video games with Pete, one among Miami’s ACC brothers, in February.

“If you go down south or go west, no one can say ‘Canisius’,” Steffan stated. “One of our essential targets is to make our identify recognized to individuals. When that occurs, one thing particular can occur. We don’t have anything to lose. We play unfastened, have enjoyable, do our factor, and we’ll go there it doesn’t matter what.

“You never know.” He stated. “When you run a few early runs and start scratching your head, you’re like, ‘Who are these guys from Buffalo?’ Then anything can happen: baseball.”

Jim Steffan would not miss it for the world. He and his spouse left for Miami on Thursday. It could be good to see his Cuban-American kinfolk. Perhaps they are going to see them indignant for a few years.

“Hey, remember what St. Peter did.” He stated.

Jerry Sullivan is an award-winning journalist and joined the Minus Better staff in 2020 after spending 30 years as a sports activities columnist at Buffalo News. Click right here to see extra of his work.