New London — As sure as the wind whips across Nitchman Field, this was going to be a special season for the Coast Guard Academy baseball.
The Bears returned the heart of last year's team that tied a single-season program record with 21 wins and earned an ECAC tournament bid.
They set lofty goals and appeared primed to deliver. But a once promising season has turned into a disappointing one.
With the regular season winding down, the Bears are fighting to qualify for the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference tournament. They reside in fifth place after a 9-5 loss to Babson on Tuesday. Only the top four will play for the NEWMAC title.
"It's pretty frustrating, especially being a senior," said Eddie Kalankiewicz who had an RBI single. "Coming off a good year, we had big expectations. We laid out all these goals. We thought this would be the year we'd break the season (win) record."
"... It's been a battle up and down this whole year."
It's hard to pinpoint a main reason why the Bears have faltered, according to coach C.C. Grant. They just can't seem to get on the same page. One game the pitching is on the mark and the bats are silent and the next is just the opposite.
In Tuesday's loss, junior Derek Petty, CGA's normally reliable No. 1 starter, had a shaky outing, allowing seven runs, including six in the third inning, before departing.
The Bears (11-17, 5-10) had their offensive chances but failed to produce in the clutch. Senior Mike Salerno went 3-for-4 while junior Eric Gerken had two hits and an RBI and junior Joe Petry had two hits.
"We were 9-9 in the league last year and won 21 ball games and it's basically the exact team as last year," Grant said. "To see kids not perform up to their capabilities, it's disappointing. They tend to push a little bit instead of relaxing when they should."
Grant is happy with the team's effort. The Bears just can't shake their inconsistent streak.
Take Tuesday. Second baseman Tyler Babkiewich made a great diving stop and flip for a force out to end a Babson threat with the bases loaded in the fifth inning, keeping the score at 7-4. But a base-running mistake cost Coast Guard at least one run in the fourth and an error led to a Babson run in the seventh.
This was the same Babson team that Coast Guard beat 25-3 just last Wednesday.
"The execution for the most part hasn't been there for most of the season," Grant said. "We've got a great group of upperclassmen, but we just haven't gotten it done. And we have some very talented underclassmen."
Despite their struggles, the Bears can still secure the final NEWMAC tournament spot. They play a three-game series this weekend against fourth-place Springfield.
"These are three biggest games of the year right now," Kalankiewicz said.
Petty (2-4, 4.79) will start the series opener Friday against Springfield.
Grant is confident that the Bears have the talent to reverse their fortunes.
They'll likely be without leading hitter Ed Sella (.375) who's sidelined with a medical issue.
"I'm always optimistic that we can show up and play three great games," Grant said. "If that happens, we can sweep. It's been an odd year as far as league play. Last year we didn't get swept by anybody and this year we've been swept twice.
"We basically have the same team. ... We'll keep plugging away."