Last Saturday, on the morning of the MAAC softball championship game, Canisius head coach Kim Griffin had a simple question for her star pitcher, Megan Giese.

“Are you feeling any pain?” Griffin asked.

“Nope, I’m good today,” Giese replied.

Griffin asked again if she was sore at all, and Giese assured her she was “fine.” That’s the word she always uses when the coach asks if her arms hurts.

Fine is her code word for stop asking and hand her the ball.

“But really, my arm did hurt,” Giese admitted Tuesday, three days after Canisius beat Siena, 4-0, to win their first MAAC title in 13 years.

Giese had pitched seven-inning complete games on Thursday and Friday to get the Golden Griffins into the final. Going three days in a row was a lot to ask, but there was no way she wasn’t pitching the clincher, not after what happened a year ago.

“This was kind of Meg’s revenge,” said Gianna Fazzolari, the Griffs’ all-league catcher. “Because we didn’t have her last year in the MAAC championship.”

As a freshman, Giese, an Orchard Park grad, was the closer. She was dominant in the first two games of the MAAC tourney, which Canisius hosted as top seed.

The Griffs came out of the losers’ bracket, with Emily Nicosia starting two games on Friday.

When Canisius plays in the NCAA Tournament, they’ll be playing for their school and a city. (Courtesy of Canisius Athletics)

Griffin wanted to give Megan, who had worked only two innings on Friday, the start in the title game against Manhattan. But Giese got sick and had to miss the 2021 title game due to COVID protocols.

Manhattan beat a weary Griffs staff, 6-3, for the title.

The loss stayed with Giese for the entire offseason. She and her teammates came back determined to get it right this season.

Giese blossomed as a sophomore, winning Pitcher of the Year honors in the league and tossing two no-hitters along the way. She’s 14-8 with a 1.53 earned-run average, with just 102 hits allowed in 151 innings, 177 strikeouts and only 27 walks.

“I think I put in more work this year,” said Giese, a righthander. “I definitely have done more practicing than in past years, even in high school. I kind of watned it more this year. I didn’t love being a closer last year. I wanted to be a starter, so I wanted to work hard and earn that position, so that kind of motivated me.”

Griffin said she knew early last season that Giese was a gamer and a budding star. She said it was “small incremental improvements” that took her to a new level this season. It wasn’t learning new pitches but refining the ones she had.

“She’s much better at locating pitches this year,” said Griffin, in her eighth year as head coach after replacing legendary Mike Rappl. “Freshmen often don’t understand now how much you have to push the corners against good hitters.

“She learned that,” Griffin added. “Her pitches are breaking a little bit harder. So she’s getting sharper, later movement on her pitches. I think the biggest thing is just the confidence and the game experience.”

It showed in the biggest moment of all.

Giese, who hit a walk-off homer to give Orchard Park a sectional title as a high school junior, pitched every inning over three days as Canisius swept three games to win the MAAC championship.

Giese, a physical education major, scattered 10 hits to beat Marist in the opener on Thursday. She tossed a 3-hitter to beat Iona on Friday and another 3-hitter to blank Siena in the title game.

Griffin said she was ready to use Alexis Churchill in relief if Giese was tired on Saturday. She also considered using Churchill on Friday, figuring that Megan wouldn’t be able to go the distance.

She went the distance.

“Meg just kept going,” Griffin said. “She has just been so consistent. She’s on fire. So, we just went with what was working. Not everybody wants to be out there in the big game, but she wants the ball, no matter the circumstance. I love that.”

“We don’t talk about pain when we get to the field, because it doesn’t exist,” said catcher Gianna Fazzolari (Courtesy of Canisius Athletics)

So, Canisius is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. The Griffs meet hosts Florida in the Gainesville regional on Friday. It brings back fond memories for players who made NCAA trips on a regular basis in the Rappl era.

That includes Brittany Schermerhorn, who coached Giese at OP and played for two MAAC champions at Canisius with her twin sister, Ashley (who is in her first year as head coach at West Seneca West). She was Brittany Bonetto in those days.

“Oh, I’m so proud of her,” said Schermerhorn. “She is the type of girl every coach wishes for — hard worker, good teammate, and just loves the game. I saw that in Meg right from the start when she played for me.

“I was so sad her senior year (at OP) when COVID hit and we weren’t able to have that last season together, because they knew it would have been a special one.”

Finally, Giese got to enjoy a special conclusion to the softball season. It’s not over yet, but win or lose this weekend, it’ll be a triumphant return to the NCAAs for Canisius, and a chance to represent Buffalo well during a time of tragedy.

On Friday, the Griffs take on a 14th-ranked Florida team that is one of the sport’s most storied programs. The Gators have won two NCAA titles and reached the World Series nine times in the program’s 21-year history.

Giese said she used to watch Florida in the NCAAs on TV when she was a little girl, dreaming of playing in the World Series one day.

The Griffs, who are riding a 12-game winning streak, are 5-23 in their NCAA history. They’re a big underdog, but maybe they could be this year’s James Madison, which made a surprise run in 2021.

“It could be us. St. Peter’s did it in basketball!” Giese said with a laugh. “I think it would be a big shock. But I don’t think we have anything to lose, so we’re just going to play as hard as we can.”

Griffin said the moment won’t be too big for Giese, who will pitch against Florida in the opener. She said no moment is too big for her star sophomore.

“She’s chill, she’s very chill,” Griffin said. 

One thing is for sure. If Griffin asks how she feels, Giese will assure her that she’s just fine.

“In the morning, we can talk about how my arm hurts or my hips hurt,” said Fazzolari, her roommate. “But when we get to the field, I look at her and I’m like, Meg, ‘How do you feel?’ She says ‘I feel great.’ I say, ‘I feel great, too.

“We don’t talk about pain when we get to the field, because it doesn’t exist.”