Coast Guard baseball team headed in the right direction

New London - Coast Guard Academy baseball coach C.C. Grant's talk to his players following a doubleheader split Saturday afternoon focused on not being satisfied.

Have an idea of the pitch you're looking for, don't leave runners on base, take advantage of every opportunity, such as the one the Bears had to sweep Springfield College, which has yet to make its trip south for spring break and was opening the season on the 35-degree day.

But overall?

"We had a pretty good preseason. I'm pleased with the way they've shown up to practice," Grant said. "There was only one game, down in Florida, we didn't play up to our capabilities. That's the only time I've been upset."

The Bears won the opener 5-4 against Springfield on a seventh-inning rally, scoring three times in the final inning to come back from a 4-2 deficit. They fell 2-1 in the second half of the doubleheader, a nine-inning game, despite getting seven strong innings from senior pitcher Derek Petty. Petty did not allow an earned run.

Coast Guard is 6-3 overall (its series finale at Springfield today has been postponed due to poor field conditions), going 5-2 on the most successful Florida trip since Grant took over the program in 2007.

The Bears were 21-16 in 2011, reaching the semifinals of the ECAC tournament, before falling to 14-21 last season despite having much the same cast as the year before.

Grant's words about his team in the offseason were strong. He said in the preseason preview, released by the academy: "Last season was a huge disappointment. ... We didn't grow, we regressed as players because our guys stopped taking coaching advice and that hurt us."

The players knew, too. Senior right fielder Nolan Gallagher called last season a reality check.

"Last year I felt we kind of got lazy a little bit," Gallagher said. "We were coming off a 21-win season and we expected to win. It was just the mentality we had. This year, we came out hungry like we were when we were freshmen."

Coast Guard started the Gene Cusic Classic in Fort Myers, Fla., by going 2-2. The Bears won three straight after that, however, earning victories over Drew (13-3), Gettysburg (8-5) and Salem State (8-2). Gallagher drove in five runs in a season-opening 11-9 victory over Merchant Marine.

The Bears made it four straight wins with the 5-4 victory over Springfield. Matt Hanks and Blake Thompson singled to lead off the seventh, Eric Gerken reached on an error to score Hanks and Gallagher lined a single to right to tie it. Finally, Mike Massaro reached on an error on a ground ball to third base, scoring Gerken with the winning run.

Riley Beecher pitched six innings, allowing one earned run, before closer Tyler Vieira picked up the win in relief.

Petty is 2-0 for the Bears, while Vieira, Curt Barrett, freshman Kyle Wood and Nate Toll each have one win. Toll was scheduled to face Springfield today. Springfield and Coast Guard both compete in the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference.

Coast Guard tied the second game 1-1 in the bottom of the sixth on a single by Ed Sella, but Springfield scored the game-winner in the eighth when Barrett hit a batter and the Pride executed two well-placed bunts to load the bases. Freshman Ed Paskowski's sacrifice fly to center scored the winning run.

Coast Guard left nine runners on base, something Grant alluded to later. But the Bears also got out of a bases-loaded jam with nobody out in the sixth, when Petty induced a popup, a strikeout and a ground ball to short.

"I feel coming off the 5-2 start in Florida, we saw what we are capable of," Beecher said. "We know what we're capable of and we're playing to the best of our ability.

"There's definitely a different tempo to practice. The players are making sure they're all on time, all on the same page. Don't take a day off. We're putting our talent to good use."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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