Patchogue-Medford graduate Anthony Vega and Bay Shore alum John Soldinger signed on to Manhattan College for the same reason.

Vega and Soldinger, now sophomores, viewed the small Catholic school in the Bronx as their ticket to big-time Division I baseball.

Soon enough, their vision became reality.

The Jaspers (34-17) won the MAAC Tournament on Saturday against Siena and will visit No. 2 overall seed Florida (45-16) Friday (ESPNU, 4 p.m.) in a regional game of the double-elimination NCAA Tournament.

It is Manhattan's first NCAA berth since a regional final appearance in 2006.

"Our whole goal was to win a MAAC championship and make it to regionals," Vega said. "And to finally do it, it was incredible."

Vega started 42 games in the outfield this season, batting .232 with 27 runs, 19 RBIs and nine stolen bases.

Soldinger spent most of his freshman season in the bullpen, only to establish himself as the Jaspers' ace this season. Soldinger (10-2, 2.34 ERA in 15 games, 13 starts) will start against the Gators.

"Getting a shot to go to a regional and playing a big-name team, that's the reason I came to Manhattan," Soldinger said.

After Soldinger found out about his starting assignment Sunday afternoon, he went home later that day to solicit advice from the man who knows him best. "Dad just told me to relax and pitch like I know how to pitch," Soldinger said. "He said it's the same game. And he told me good pitching always beats good hitting."

Soldinger admits to first being nervous at the thought of pitching in front of 6,000 mostly pro-Gator fans at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville. The visit home, however, eased those butterflies. Plus, when the righthander takes the mound, he will enjoy the tourney experience with a Suffolk compatriot.

"John and I are pretty close," Vega said. "The team itself is very close, but being from Long Island, we know a lot of the same people, so it's always nice. To have the kind of success he has, it says a lot about the talent on Long Island."

As for how far the Jaspers can advance in the tournament, the two believe their small-school team could surprise a few people.

"Never count anybody out because both teams play the same game," Soldinger said. "Anything can happen."

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