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New London - Coast Guard Academy's softball team, which has won three straight New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference tournament titles and made four straight trips to the NCAA tournament, must replace one of the top pitchers in Division III history as the Bears open their season Sunday in Kissimmee, Fla.
All-America pitcher Hayley Feindel finished her career last season as the NCAA Division III all-time leader in wins (124), strikeouts (1,457), innings pitched (1,029.7), games (160), games started (156), complete games (140) and she is second all-time in Division III with 62 shutouts. She had a career-record of 124-30.
"It is impossible to replace Hayley," Coast Guard coach Donna Koczajowski said in a press release. "We do, however, feel that we can still compete with the top teams in the NEWMAC with the players that we have coming back. We are looking forward to proving that we can be successful with not just pitching, but with our offense and defense."
Coast Guard saw what life without Feindel was like last year when she missed 16 games with a broken finger. Junior Catherine Walker filled in, making 16 starts and picking up seven victories.
This season the Bears will count on freshman Kristine Kahl of Monmouth, Maine, as the new ace of the staff, while Walker and freshman Sammy Yuknat of Old Lyme will give the Bears some needed depth.
Coast Guard was 28-19 last season and 8-8 in conference play, earning the sixth and final NEWMAC tournament seed en route to winning the conference tournament and finishing the season ranked 23rd nationally.
The Bears return a solid middle of the order in NFCA first team All-American senior Holli Bastinck and NEWMAC Rookie of the Year Jessie Richardson.
Bastinck hit .452 with 70 hits and was tied for the conference lead with 10 homers while driving in 50 runs and leading the Bears with a .697 slugging percentage. She was named to both the NFCA and the New England Softball Coaches Association (NEISCA) first team all-region teams.
Richardson, the NEWMAC Rookie of the Year and first team all-conference selection, also tied for the conference lead with a .452 batting average while scoring a single-season school record 47 runs. She had 10 doubles, three homers and 26 RBI and led the team with a .521 on base percentage. She led the Bears with a .462 batting average in the four NCAA tournament games to earn a spot on the NCAA tournament all-regional team.
Junior center fielder Kaitlin Ward also returns to bolster the Bears offense after hitting .326 with five homers and 30 RBI.
Senior Stacia Sarwinski, a four-year starter, returns in right field to anchor the Bears' outfield, while the left field spot will be shared by senior Summer Dupler and sophomore Kelsey Gray.
The Bears infield will have a much different look this season with Walker and sophomore Stephanie Figgins both seeing time at first base.
Sophomore Erin Lisko (.244), who started all 45 games at shortstop last season, will split time between shortstop and second base this season while junior captain Kelly Grills of Stonington will also spend time at second base and freshman Morgan Kingston is expected to see time at shortstop.
Bastinck will play third base, behind the plate and as the designated player this season, giving Koczajowski plenty of different lineup options this season.
"Winning is a learned behavior and we have gotten a taste of that and it's a strong motivator," Koczajowski said. "Our returners have a hunger to win and we have a chip on our shoulder because we are looking forward to being an underdog and showing we can do it with our bats and our defense."