Coast Guard baseball still in search of No. 22

Coast Guard Academy's Mark Behne dives safely back into first base on a pickoff attempt during the first game of a doubleheader Saturday afternoon against Babson College. Babson swept Coast Guard 2-1 and 7-6 to deny the Bears their program record-breaking 22nd victory of the season.

New London - Coast Guard Academy didn't resemble a team on the verge of setting a school record for regular-season wins on Saturday afternoon.

The Bears lacked their usual focus and execution.

They've been much better than they played in a doubleheader loss to Babson in New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference baseball at Nitchman Field.

"This is really the first time all year that I was disappointed with the way we played," coach C.C. Grant said. "We picked a bad time to play two bad games."

Needing just one win to set the record, the Bears wasted a strong pitching performance by Nate Toll in a 2-1 loss in the first game. Toll went the distance, allowing just four singles.

Costly mistakes - in the field and on the basepaths - and a failure to take advantage of 17 hits contributed to a 7-6 loss in game two.

The losses dropped the Bears (21-13, 9-8) to the fourth seed in the upcoming NEWMAC tournament.

"We came in with the expectation that we had to take two today so we could have home field advantage for the tournament, but we didn't show up to play," senior Tyler Babkiewich said. "We didn't back up our pitchers. ... We bobbled the ball and threw it away and didn't play our type of baseball.

"Normally, we're solid."

The Bears have been as solid as granite this year. They learned lessons from last year's disappointing 14-21 overall season. Fifteen seniors form the heart of the team.

Pitching has been terrific with senior Derek Petty (5-2, 1.53) serving as the ace of the staff. Babkiewich (.273, 18 RBI), and fellow seniors Ed Sella (.340, 20 RBI), Eric Gerken (.341), Nolan Gallagher (.350, 23 RBI) and Mike Massaro (.273, 19 RBI) fuel the offense.

More importantly, the mindset has changed.

"We sat down as captains this year and said we're going to be the most coachable team that we've ever been," Petty said. "Our record right now shows the change."

"We're honestly just having a great time. Every day we come down here is fun. Practice is a good time, but we get our work done."

Grant is enjoying the season, too. He genuinely loves this group and badly wants them to succeed.

Prior to stumbling Saturday, the Bears had won six of their last seven games.

Coast Guard, which never led in either game, played sloppy baseball in game two.

A throwing error on a bunt led to two runs in a four-run third inning, giving Babson (17-14, 10-7) a 6-1 lead. Coast Guard had a runner thrown out at the plate in the seventh and scored only two runs in the final three innings despite generating nine hits.

Babkiewich finished with a single, RBI double and two-run home run - his first this season - and became the program's all-time leader in runs scored with 110. Gerken had three hits and also reached base three times (two walks, single) in the opener.

Grant delivered an emotional message to his team after the game.

"This group is special," Grant said. "I just want to see them do well. ... As much as they're enjoying this, it's all going to come to an end.

"They need to play like they're capable of playing if they want to go as far as I think we can. They can't just step on the field and take it for granted."

"We're capable of winning the NEWMAC championship with this group of kids."

The NEWMAC tournament begins next weekend. First, Coast Guard gets another shot at Babson today to complete the three-game series.

"We've got all the talent in the world when we all piece it together at the same time," Babkiewich said. "It's the end of the season, it has to start happening now."


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