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Niagara’s record-setting baseball season ends in NCAA regional

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — An historic run for Niagara University’s baseball team came to its conclusion Saturday in Stillwater, Oklahoma, where the Purple Eagles staked an early lead and hung tough with the Nebraska Cornhuskers before getting eliminated from the NCAA baseball regional.

Niagara opened an early lead and stayed ahead until the fifth inning of its 7-5 loss to Nebraska, following Friday night’s 19-7 defeat against No. 11 Oklahoma State, the regional host.

“I’m proud of our guys,” Niagara coach Rob McCoy said. “They showed a ton of fight, a ton of grit.”

Making their NCAA tournament debut as first-time Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions, Niagara finished with a 38-17 record after never winning more than 30 games before in a season. That included a program-best 20 MAAC victories and a share of the regular season title for the first time, a non-conference win at Michigan State, and 7-0 mark against Little 3 rivals Canisius and St. Bonaventure.

“It’s more than just a team,” senior catch Matt Ward said. “It’s a brotherhood. It goes beyond baseball and what happens between the lines.”

“It says something about a program when no one really wants to leave,” Ward added. “Guys are willing to put their heads down, nose to the grindstone and wait their turn to play for a great coach in Rob McCoy and Matt Spatafora.

In Friday night’s opener, Oklahoma State scored seven runs in the first inning and staked an 11-1 lead before Niagara rallied in the late innings. Against Nebraska, it was the Purple Eagles scoring the game’s first four runs.

“If you take the first two, three innings out of yesterday, once we got our sea leages under us and into today, I thought we competed really well,” McCoy said. “And I don’t think we have anything to hang our heads about.”

The Purple Eagles held their own against power conference pitching, with 18 hits and 12 runs scored over their two NCAA regional games.

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Jonah Bronstein joined the WIVB squad in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. The Buffalonian has covered the Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools and other notable sporting events in Western New York since 2005, for publications including The Associated Press, The Buffalo News, and Niagara Gazette. Read more of his work here.

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