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From grounders at Ocean Beach to 'dogpiles' on the Mitchell turf

New London — The mind's eye may conjure the archetypal college experience as perhaps an assemblage of co-eds walking among ornate academic buildings or sprawling dormitories. Or maybe the well-attended frat party with an impressive allotment of red solo cups.

And then there is homey, comfy Mitchell College. Except for members of the modestly sized student body staying wary of walking across Montauk Ave. amid occasionally impatient local motorists, Mitchell is best known as a neighborhood school. There's even a beach on campus. And now it's known for something else: This rather consistent championship thing with its athletic programs.

The baseball team got to do what coach Travis Beausoleil happily calls the "dogpile thing" Sunday for the fifth time in the last eight years, winning the conference and now waiting for an opponent in the NCAA Division III Tournament. This comes after coach Todd Peretz and the men's basketball title from 2019 (and 2014). Not bad for a school with under 1,000 in enrollment.

"Every challenge we've seen — like it's a small campus without a ton going on — every negative recruiting vibe we've turned into a positive," Beausoleil was saying earlier this week from the home baseball dugout that frames with newly turfed lawn.

"Our guys aren't going out to Blarney's the night before a game like the guys at Eastern are doing. Or going to Ted's or a frat party at UConn. While it hurts us from getting the top recruit, we find the right one. They're dedicated to being out here practicing and competing for championships."

This is year 10 for Beausoleil, who arrived here with the equivalent of a Harvard baseball education. He played at Plainfield High for John Schiffner, who not only won 400 games there, but is the career wins leader on Cape Cod. He also played at UConn-Avery Point for Roger Bidwell, meaning that the people who taught him are responsible for nearly 2,000 combined victories.

"It's nice to have a 400-game winner and all-time winningest coach from the Cape as the guy who taught you in high school," Beausoleil said. "Then playing for Roger was unbelievable. I still call him when I have questions today."

Beausoleil said he sounds like neither Schiffner nor Bidwell in times of peril, admitting "I wish I could do the coach Bidwell thing. He was able to talk to you and get through without raising his voice. I haven't reached that maturity level yet."

Still, something is working here. The Mariners have become the Yankees of the New England Collegiate Conference. Five titles since 2014. And while the NECC isn't the National League East, it's still baseball. In the Northeast. Which means any number of obstacles that make winning harder.

"If March Madness were a double elimination sport, the Final Four and Elite Eight would be ones and twos (seeds) all the time," Beausoleil said. "You might pick 'em off once, but not twice. Baseball isn't like that. The weather, the umpire, the pitcher, a bad day ... We've been the best team in the conference since 2014, but that doesn't guarantee anything. We got walked off on at Lesley on a grand slam in 2017 and in '19, New England College beat us 2-0 and 2-1. We don't take it for granted. Anytime you get a chance to watch your guys dogpile, they get a memory for the rest of their lives."

This is a program whose season begins in late January. Practice often happens in the gym, except that men's and women's basketball and men's and women's lacrosse need practice time there, too. Beausoleil and his boys often head to the parking lot at Ocean Beach in the winter. It's hardly spring training in the Florida sun with the wind wisping through the palms.

"If we get a 40-degree day, we'll hit ground balls and throw and long toss in the parking lot," Beausoleil said. "If you go to the third parking lot at Ocean Beach, you'll see a spray painted home plate and bases. We love our turfed field here, but doing that stuff gives us that blue collar sentiment."

The Mariners await the selection show on May 23 to learn their opponent and destination. School is over and graduation has happened, leaving the baseball players some time to enjoy their accomplishment and think about more of them in a few weeks. Meanwhile, the Mitchell family clearly appreciates the good name its baseball team — and other teams — continue to give the school.

"President (Dr. Tracy Y.) Espy sent me a nice note after we won and sent one to the Board of Directors, too," Beausoleil said. "It's really nice to be at a place that is appreciative and understands what athletics mean and why these guys are coming here. It makes my job more important to find the right ones. This is a school that values athletics and it's extremely affordable if you get to that conversation."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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