Mansfield - Hayley Feindel, who elevated Coast Guard Academy's softball program to elite status during a brilliant four-year career, threw her final pitch on Sunday when the Bears were eliminated from the NCAA Division III tournament's Mansfield Regional.
After rallying from a 4-1 deficit to tie the game on a Kaitlin Ward's dramatic three-run homer in the sixth inning, top-seeded Eastern Connecticut State University scored a run in the top of the eighth and held on a 5-4 victory over the No. 5 Bears in the losers' bracket final.
Second-seeded Tufts went on to win the title and advance to the College World Series by defeating Eastern 5-0 in the championship game later Sunday.
"I'm proud of my team," Coast Guard coach Donna Koczajowski said after the Bears finished 28-19. "Hayley missed 16 games (with a broken finger) and the postseason was in question. We had to come from the sixth seed in the NEWMAC tournament and win five straight just to get to the NCAA tournament and to be the fifth seed here and make it to the final day, and we made the school proud.'
Feindel, who will graduate on Wednesday, leaves Coast Guard as the most decorated pitcher in Division III history, She finishes her career as the nation's all-time lead in wins (124), strikeouts (1,457), innings pitched (1,029.7), games (160), games started (156) and complete games (140). She is second all-time with 62 shutouts and winds up with a career record of 124-30 with nine no-hitters and two perfect games.
Feindel's postseason career, however, was marred by controversy - mostly notably the calling of illegal pitches - and her final game was no different. She was called for several on Sunday, so despite holding a 1-0 lead heading into the fifth, she had to pitch extra carefully to ECSU's Molly Rathbun with the bases loaded and Rathbun made her pay, blasting a grand slam to left to give the Warriors a 4-1 lead.
Rathbun, like Feindel and multiple All-American pick, gave it back an inning later when Ward hit her home run, but ECSU regrouped and scored in the eighth when Mystic's Arielle Cooper singled, was bunted to second and scored when Stephanie Johnson legged out an infield single, but the ball was thrown away at first.
"It's just unfortunate we had some miscommunication on the ground ball to second base and that one defensive play ended up being the difference," Koczajowski said, "but in championship play that is what it comes down to."
Coast Guard had one last chance when Rathbun hit Ward to open the inning and Jamie Kim walked two outs later. Erin Lisko then fouled off a pitch, but was called out of the batter's box to end the game.
Three seniors - Feindel, first baseman Maddie Buchert and second baseman Kim - leave with a four-year record of 139-40-1. They led the Bears to four straight NCAA tournament appearances, and three straight NEWMAC regular season (2009, 2010, 2011) and tournament championships (2010, 2011, 2012). Coast Guard had never won a NEWMAC title or appeared in the NCAA tournament before they arrived.
"We play for each other," Feindel said. "We play because we want more time to be around each other, it's not about the game, it's about the players.''
Feindel and catcher Jessica Richardson were named to the all-tournament team along with ECSU outfielder Mattie Brett of Waterford. Tufts pitcher Allyson Fournier, a freshman, was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. She did not allow an earned run in four games and 28 innings.