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New London — Friday's decisive victory represented a best-case scenario for the Mitchell College baseball team.
By cruising to an 11-0 rout of Elms College in the New England Collegiate Conference tournament opener, the top-seeded Mariners shortened their route to a potential title by moving right into the winners' bracket. They advanced with a rested pitching staff after freshman Axel De Jesus turned in a solid complete-game performance.
They also extended their winning streak to seven, further boasting their confidence.
And they made coach Travis Beausoleil happy.
"It was a good day offensively, a great day defensively and obviously on the mound was a stellar day," Beausoleil said. "When you put those three things together, if you don't win, you're in trouble."
And don't forget the feel-good factor that comes from a convincing all-around effort.
"It gets us a positive vibe," said Gavin LaLima, a junior from Waterford. "It definitely gets us rolling. We've been hot lately, so we just want to try to keep it up."
A strong finish helped Mitchell secure a share of the regular season title with Becker College. The Mariners owned the tie-breaker, giving them the right to host the tournament.
Mitchell (20-11-1) broke open a scoreless game with five runs in the fourth and four in the fifth inning. The Mariners took advantage of a tired Elms pitching staff that needed to beat Southern Vermont on Thursday to earn the fourth and final spot.
LaLima, the leadoff hitter, reached base four times - two walks, a single and triple - scored three runs and drove in three while junior Evan Peck had two doubles and three RBI.
After grounding into rally-killing double plays in both the second and third innings, the patient Mariners finally broke through in the fourth by taking advantage of a wild Curtis LeBeau, who walked three and hit two batters to force in two runs.
"It's the conference tourney, we're going to do whatever we can to win," LaLima said.
All five runs came with two outs. LaLima drew a bases loaded walk to open the scoring. Marc Dorsi was hit by a pitch to force in another. Reliever Cody Lemieux came in and walked senior Ken Olszewski for a 3-0 lead and then Peck belted a two-run double for the only hit of the inning.
In the fifth, junior Blaze Iannetti (sacrifice fly), LaLima (two-run triple) and Dorsi (single) all drove in runs to increase the lead to 9-0.
The Mariners finished with 11 hits.
"We squared balls up," Beausoleil said. "I thought we hit the whole way through."
With a comfortable lead, De Jesus settled down and finished off Elms (12-19). He scattered eight hits and walked just one. He was determined to finish the game, fanning the final batter for his only strikeout. He threw 119 pitches.
"What a great job by a freshman," Beausoleil said.
De Jesus was "pretty pumped" when told he would be starting the first game.
"I've been working hard, so in a way it wasn't a surprise," said De Jesus, who improved to 3-2 and lowered his earned run average to a sparkling 2.12. "I knew I was going to pitch sometime in the tournament. I've been dominating and doing well."
Mitchell is in prime position heading into a winners' bracket game against second-seeded Becker (19-15) today at 1 p.m. Sophomore Tyler Shamas, who ranks first in conference games in wins (6), earned run average (1.07) and strikeouts (36 in 42 innings), will get the start. Fitch graduate Al Jordan Johnson also is available.
The Mariners aren't taking anything for granted, though. They remember what happened last year when they advanced to the championship round unbeaten and then lost twice to Daniel Webster, which received an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III tournament.
"We don't want that feeling again," LaLima said. "We lost two on a Sunday and lost the championship (last year). It broke out a lot of hearts ... It's a new year. We're going to try to win all the way through."