Bears are right back on the map

Coast Guard's Kaitlin Ward (14) is congratulated at home plate by her teammates after scoring the go-ahead run in the fourth inning of the first game of a doubleheader against Springfield College Friday in New London. Coast Guard swept, winning the opener 5-4 in eight innings and the second game 4-3.

New London - Coast Guard Academy catcher Jesse Richardson was on her way out to the pitcher's mound to talk to Hayley Feindel, who was in a jam.

Richardson took about three steps before stopping in her tracks and heading back behind the plate, apparently shooed away by Feindel.

"For 15 games I've been standing there and talking about it," said Feindel, the senior All-American, who missed that number of games this season with a broken finger on her pitching hand. "Right now I need to pitch.

"You know yourself and I need to throw more to get better. I can't stop and assess."

Led by a combined 23 strikeouts from Feindel, the Bears swept a doubleheader Friday afternoon against Springfield College, the first-place team in the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference. The Bears won the first game 5-4 in eight innings and the second game 4-3.

In the first game, Kaitlin Ward was 3-for-3 with four RBI, two doubles and a home run. Maddie Buchert was placed on second base to start the eighth inning in accordance with the international tiebreaker and Richardson's bunt, misplayed by Springfield, allowed Buchert to slide in safely despite a play at the plate.

Feindel struck out 13, allowing only one earned run on seven hits.

The Bears (20-14, 8-6) scored three times in the second inning of game two to take a 3-1 lead, highlighted by a two-run double from Stacia Sarwinski. Holli Bastinck doubled to lead off the third and scored on a hit by Chloe Harmon to make it 4-1.

Feindel pitched a five-hitter with 10 strikeouts, although she gave up two home runs to Springfield No. 5 hitter Breann Joyce, who finished the day with three total home runs.

"It kind of solidifies our self-confidence," Coast Guard coach Donna Koczajowski said of the sweep. "We beat Springfield; that announces to the league that we're back and we're ready to try to win the NEWMAC tournament. It put us back on the map."

Coast Guard earned last year's NEWMAC tournament title by winning three games in one day, including a sweep of Springfield in the championship round. All three were shutouts by Feindel, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. Coast Guard made its third straight NCAA tournament appearance.

This season, however, Feindel's season was derailed in the first week of practice following the Bears return from a trip to Florida. While taking extra ground balls after practice, Feindel took a ball off her right hand, which she thought nothing of at the time. An X-ray revealed the break.

"You drive yourself crazy," Feindel (13-6) said of watching from the sidelines while junior Catherine Walker took over the pitching duties. "You anticipate. You're anxious. You're mad. You're emotional. You want to be out there in your senior year."

Even Koczajowski has marveled at Feindel's ability to block out the pain in her hand. Feindel, the all-time Division III strikeouts leader with 1,376, worked quickly against Springfield, striking out six straight hitters in the middle of her second game of the day.

"She's always been mentally tough," Koczajowski said. "But very few people have the amount of focus she has."

Coast Guard finishes its regular-season schedule with a NEWMAC doubleheader today at home against Babson (21-16, 8-6). Springfield (20-12-1, 10-4) plays a doubleheader against Wheaton (17-17, 9-5) and must split to win the league title.

Coast Guard - which got a pep talk from Rear Adm. Sandra Stosz, the academy's superintendent, in the postgame huddle - clinched a berth in the NEWMAC tournament beginning Tuesday.

"We have a lot of history with Springfield. We knew we at least had to split with them," Ward said. "I was kind of nervous. I feel like we've definitely had to come together more as a team. We've been playing together and doing a good job."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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