By Alexis Brundicki
Canadian Baseball Network
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Two years ago, with Canisius College making its first-ever run on the road to Omaha, the Golden Griffins squared off against the top seed in the nation with Mike Krische hitting leadoff and playing centre field for the visitors against the University of North Carolina.
After winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship for the second time in program history this season – losing the first game and then having to come out on top in five straight to advance – the Griffs brought a new-look lineup to Missouri to compete at the Springfield Regional on Saturday in the Field of 64, with Krische batting lower in the order as the squad’s designated hitter.
“For me it was a little different,” the native of Langley, BC said. “Obviously that was our first MAAC championship that we had won, so it was pretty special in a different way. But this year the regional was pretty special because of the way that we won the MAAC championship this year.
“We lost the first game and then had our backs against the wall, and everyone came together and obviously I thought we played our best baseball that we had. Then this regional was a little different …it was just one day of baseball as opposed to two, but they’re both pretty special moments to all of us, so something that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.”
Forced off the field with a badly broken ankle less than two months ago, the 21-year-old made his triumphant return during Canisius’ final regular-season series against Niagara two weeks ago. He was named to the all-tournament team during the squad’s run to the conference title, and was a consistent bat during regional competition against Missouri State and Oregon.
“Honestly I had no idea that this would even be a possibility for me [after] getting injured 22 games into the season and what I thought was season-ending,” Krische said. “I’ve been taking it day by day as a blessing and I’ve just been taking it all in on the field and it’s been a great last couple weeks for me.”
The right-handed hitter was hoping a mid-season comeback might be within the realm of possibility when he learned that his left ankle injury would not require surgery, but didn’t believe he would be playing – and having an impact on the team – in the conference finals where he was named to the all-tournament team or at regionals until he was there.
“It was an idea,” Krische said of playing in the MAAC championship. “[Head coach Mike] McRae brought me in to play against Niagara and I had a couple of at-bats, but it became pretty real the last couple of weeks. I knew that I might have a chance, and then I got to pinch-hit in the first game. Then the next game I showed up and he said ‘You’re in the lineup,’ so I was feeling pretty good, and I was up for it obviously.”
Rushing his rehabilitation to make it back into games, Krische has continued to experience pain after playing – the adrenaline carrying him through each game – but would have done anything just to be out on the field with his teammates.
“After the adrenaline is gone, then I start to feel it a little bit, but it’s definitely getting better,” he said. “It’s progressing … [and the level of pain] depends what I’m doing, honestly. If I’m breaking down, it gets a little sore. On quick bursts, it nags a little bit. But when there’s adrenaline and it’s during a play, then I don’t really feel it until I get back to the dugout. But I’ve got to ice it every night and it’s still not anywhere near 100 per cent.”
With the season at its end for the Griffs, and a degree in biology under his belt with plans to take the MCAT this summer, Krische will continue his rehab in Buffalo with team trainer Zach Malecki before he returns home to the west coast.
“I’m planning on sticking around Buffalo for a little while, so I’m going to see Zach,” he said. “He’s been amazing with it and he’s helped me every step of the way here. Then when I go home back to BC I’m just going to continue physio and hopefully get it back to normal.”
Though the immediate feeling for every member of the Canisius squad following their two losses on Saturday was disappointment, Krische has many fond memories of his time with the Griffins and had mixed emotions about seeing his tenure with the team come to an end.
“Obviously it’s a little disappointing the way that we went out because we’re a lot better team than what we showed today,” he said. “But I’m proud of the team and it’s been a great ride. I wouldn’t change it for anything …
“The last practice [at the Demske Sports Complex in Buffalo] we were all talking about it, how crazy it was and how fast everything went. We were all saying we remember the first time we were hitting [batting practice] on the field together. Even today, just the last couple innings, it was a pretty emotional time, just being done and everything and how fast it goes. It’s been a good experience.”
Kirsche had two hits and two walks in eight plate appearances with an RBI in Springfield, as the Griffs lost 14-1 to the Missouri State Bears and 12-6 to the Oregon Ducks.
Though the Griffs will leave Missouri winless at the NCAA Division-I championship, head coach Mike McRae is happy about the way his team fought through a tough season and of what they accomplished along the way.
“It’s been a pretty resilient group and I really couldn’t be prouder,” McRae said. “We’ve gone through a lot of adversity this year, both on and off the field, and these guys haven’t packed it in at any point. I couldn’t be prouder of their ability to keep showing up and keep grinding. Our season could have been over a week ago in a Game 2 situation, but they’ve really battled. I wasn’t surprised at that.”