To be clear, when the Coast Guard Academy softball team won three games on the final day to win last year's New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference tournament, it probably wasn't planning on ever having to take that path to the title again.
And that back-to-back-to-back sweep was with pitcher Hayley Feindel perfectly healthy.
On Saturday, the Bears pulled off the same trifecta to win the NEWMAC for the third straight season, only with much higher odds. Feindel suffered a broken finger on her pitching hand the first week of the season, missed 16 games and struggled to manage the pain when she did pitch.
"We talked about playing our A game. If we could do that, we felt we were the best team," said Coast Guard coach Donna Koczajowski, whose team was the sixth seed. "We were on a roll, just crushing the ball.
"Luckily, championships are won when teams peak. We had to be better and there was no other time to do it."
The Bears defeated top-seeded Springfield 8-5 in eight innings in the losers' bracket final before sweeping No. 2 Babson in the championship series 11-0 in five innings and 5-2, with all three games being played at Springfield.
That gave the Bears (26-17) the league's automatic bid to the Division III NCAA tournament. The NCAA bracket will be announced Monday morning, with Coast Guard likely to be placed in a regional either at Eastern Connecticut State University or Amherst College. It is Coast Guard's fourth straight NCAA berth.
Feindel, a senior, earned all three wins and was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. She also became Division III's all-time wins leader with her second victory of the day. Feindel (19-8), also the all-time strikeouts leader, has 122 career victories.
The Bears trailed 4-2 in the seventh inning in the opener against Springfield, before scoring two in their final at-bat behind an RBI double by Devin Fellman and an RBI single by Maddie Buchert.
Beginning with a runner on second base in the eighth in accordance with the international tiebreaker, Coast Guard scored four times, getting an RBI single by Jamie Kim to make it 5-4 and a three-run home run by Fellman.
In the second game, the Bears scored two runs in the second inning, five in the third and four in the fourth, getting a three-run homer in the fourth inning from Chloe Harmon. Feindel, meanwhile, pitched a three-hitter and kept her pitch count in check when the game ended early due to the mercy rule.
"She's a career player for a coach," said Koczajowski of Feindel, an All-American last season and the three-time NEWMAC Pitcher of the Year.
"She's permanently left her mark on Division III softball. She's doing everything she has to do and doing it with a broken finger. She leaves it all on the field, time and time again. She's a dominant pitcher. And she's not 100 percent healthy yet."
Coast Guard scored four runs in the first inning of the final game, paced by a three-run homer by Holli Bastinck, who was 4-for-4. Kim also set the career record for games played in the finale, playing in the 171st of her career.
Koczajowski called Saturday's performance "a team effort."
"We left our heart and blood, literally, on the field," the coach said. "... We got into a good cycle."