By John Cirillo
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Right fielder Jake Salpietro and center fielder Drew Arciuolo wielded the hot bats, both stroking three hits, including a solo home run and two RBI apiece, to catapult #1 seed Fairfield University (31-24) to an 8-5 victory over Canisius College on Friday at Dutchess Stadium, vaulting the Stags into the MAAC baseball championship round today (Saturday, May 28) for the first time since 2000.
Relievers Aaron Howell and Mike Bonaiuto slammed the door on the Golden Griffins bats after Canisius tied the game at 5-5 in the fifth inning.
Bonaiuto, a junior southpaw, retired all six batters he faced to lift the Stags to the title round.
The Stags will face #2 seed Siena College (25-31), 5-0 winners over Canisius, at noon to put away the championship. If the Saints win the first game, the two will square off for the championship at 3:00 PM. Siena will not be an easy foe; it’s the Saints’ fourth straight MAAC championship series appearance. The Saints staved off elimination twice Friday, ousting No. 6 seed and tournament host Manhattan 15-4, before knocking out defending MAAC Champion and fourth seeded Canisius 5-0.
Salpietro’s circuit blast in the sixth proved to be the game winner. It was the Berkley, Massachusetts product’s second straight three-hit performance. Arciuolo, a Millford, Connecticut native, was a double short of hitting for the cycle.
“It’s pretty unbelievable,” said Arciuolo, whose home run was the first of his career. “We know we have this kind of talent and this kind of hard work. We have to stay focused and we’re one win away from doing what we’ve been working for.”
“I can believe it,” Head Coach Bill Currier said. “We’ve done pretty well throughout the year and finished first. It’s where we expect to be.”
Fairfield has never won a MAAC Championship Final, losing in the final series in 1995 and 2000. Fairfield does have three MAAC titles, coming in 1983, 1991, and 1993. However, those latter two seasons there was not a tournament and Fairfield won the MAAC South Division. Also, with a win the Stags will see their name in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever.
“We have a long way to go,” Coach Currier said. “We want to get deeper in the games with our pitchers. We just hope the guys come in Saturday ready to go.”
“We say, ‘we don’t dream, we just work hard,’” Arciuolo said.