New London - An experienced group of returnees, including 14 seniors, will be key as Coast Guard attempts to bounce back from a disappointing 2012 baseball season.
The Bears, who finished 14-21 a year ago (6-12 in the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference), open their 2013 season Friday with a doubleheader against the Merchant Marine Academy in Ft. Myers, Fla.
Coast Guard will play eight games during their week in Florida before opening the northern portion of their schedule on March 15 at Springfield. The Bears' home opener is the following day when the play a doubleheader against the Pride at noon.
"Last season was a huge disappointment after winning 21 games in 2011," Coast Guard head coach C.C. Grant said. "We didn't grow. We regressed as players because our guys stopped taking coaching advice and that hurt us.
"This year, our players have been responding to what the coaches are saying and whether we continue to do that will be a huge factor in if we have success this season."
Coast Guard returns its top six hitters and pitchers from a year ago, with their top five pitchers all seniors: starters Derek Petty (2-5, 4.55), Riley Beecher (2-3, 5.54) and Nate Toll (2-4, 7.15) and relievers Curt Barrett and Tyler Vieira.
Vieira is the Bears' career leader with 14 saves.
Sophomores Anthony Martin, Tony Buzzini and Andrew Lucak will also be counted on to give quality innings while sophomore Dylan Wright and a pair of freshmen - Sean Barry and Kyle Wood - could make contributions.
"We were hurt last season by not making key pitches when we needed to walking way too many batters," said Grant. "There were games were we pitched very well, but then we didn't hit ... We need to play a more complete game to be successful."
Seniors Nolan Gallagher (RF), Ed Sella (CF) and Eric Gerken (LF) all return in the outfield. Sella, who missed 15 games last season, led Bears in hitting (.373) while Gallagher was second (.341) and was tied for the team lead with 25 RBI.
Junior Lukas Laplante, a former catcher, sophomore Dan Sabourin and freshman Ed Lazowski are the outfield reserves.
A pair of seniors will anchor the infield in Tyler Babkiewich (.314) at second and Joe Petry (.310), the Bears' best defensive infielder, back at shortstop. Babkiewich led the Bears with 11 doubles last season and was tied for the team lead with 25 RBIs.
Senior Mike Massaro will see time at second base and as the designated hitter and freshman Mark Behne will also battle for time at second base. Juior Dave Wolinski (.299) is back at first base while sophomore Blake Thompson (.280) will start a third.
Senior Cameron Carroll (.274) and sophomore Tim Betts, who makes the move from the infield and has been a pleasant surprise behind the plate in the preseason, will split the catching duties.
"If there is ever a year for us to have a great season, this is it with the huge senior class and some good young talent added to the mix," said Grant. "Last year, we didn't get any better and everyone else did, but this team is built to compete and we will work every day to get better."