By Earl Zukerman, McGill Athletics & Recreation
Tournament MVP Christopher Stanford of Quebec City hit a walk-off-the-field solo home run with two out in the bottom of the seventh inning as McGill rallied to edge University of Montreal 3-2 and capture their third consecutive Canadian Collegiate Baseball Association national championship at Parc Ahuntsic, Sunday.
It capped a zany weather weekend of rescheduled games that forced the Redmen to play a tripleheader on Friday and a doubleheader on Sunday, where they posted a 4-1 record en route to claiming their sixth national title since 1994. McGill opened the six-team tourney on Friday with a 6-1 victory over Acadia, followed by a 3-1 loss to Saint Mary’s and a 6-5 win over Montreal. That set up Sunday’s noon semifinal, a revenge match against Saint Mary’s that McGill won in a 21-0 rout to reach the gold medal game later in the day.
Stanford, a 21-year-old international development studies major, hit his game-winning blast to left-centre with two outs on a 1-0 fastball from starter Simon Brisebois. It was the first homer of the year for Stanford, who also reached the NCAA championship national finals last spring with Franklin Pierce University, a Div. 2 school that finished seventh in the tourney.
“Honestly, it’s unreal. You see these type of stories in the movies and you never think that it could be true and then it happens and you think ‘Oh my god, this is ridiculous,'” said Stanford, a 5-foot-10, 195-pound catcher who had eight hits in 16 at bats and reached base two more times on hit by pitches over the weekend. He racked up 10 runs batted in, three doubles and scored two runs.
“There was two outs so I was just looking to get on second base because Emerson Dohm was batting behind me and he’s been huge in the clutch for us all year. So at that point, I was thinking that I need to find a pitch to drive and hit the ball hard (hopefully) to get on second and put us in a position to score. I saw the ball high and in, I swung and it went over the fence.”
Rocky Hroch was credited with the win, pitching two perfect innings in relief of southpaw starter Bryan Corona who left after five innings with the score tied 2-2. It was the second victory of the day for Hroch, a management junior form Temecula, Calif., who started in the lopsided semifinal win over the SMU Huskies.
Montreal opened the scoring in the top of the first inning when Francis Desnoyers singled and scored on an RBI double by Vincent Dion. McGill rallied with a pair of runs in fourth. The first four batters reached base with Sebastiano Scalzo of Laval, Que., and Alexander Levis of Dollard des Ormeaux, Que., both registering RBI singles.
UdeM tied the score at 2-2 in the top of the fifth when Pascal Gregoire hit a two-out single to centre that cashed in Christian Gendron.
In the fateful seventh, McGill’s Sam Groleau hit a leadoff double to centre but was erased on a double-play when Sam Savoie hit a deep fly ball to Gregoire, who relayed it to second for the second out. That set the stage for Stanford’s heroics.
“Stanford has been a rock behind the plate for us,” said McGill head coach and field manager Jason Starr, who guided the team to a school record 31 wins in 42 games overall this season, including a 15-1 regular season mark in the CCBA Northern Division and an 8-2 clip in post-season play. “Defensively he’s been amazing and offensively, he’s come up with a lot of big hits for us. And today that was probably the biggest hit of his career and no doubt one of the biggest hits in McGill baseball history.
“This game is probably the best one that I’ve ever been a part of. It was really deserving of being a national championship final,” added Starr, who is in his 16th year with the program, including four as a player. “This one was special because all year round, we’ve faced adversity and had a target on our backs. When you’re the two-time national champs, everyone wants to beat you. Winning one title is hard, winning another is not easy and winning a third is very challenging. I’m just so proud of the guys. They played their hearts out… stuck with the plan and worked hard. they deserve the credit in all this.”
Prior to joining the CCBA in 2014, McGill previously won three national baseball titles in the Canadian Intercollegiate Baseball Association (1994, 2006, 2010).