The Bowdoin baseball team was on pins and needles while it waited to learn whether a historic regular-season trumped a disappointing conference tournament and earned it a spot in the NCAA Division III tournament.
“We knew we had a good resume. Twenty-eight wins is pretty respectable,” said junior second baseman Nick Lawler, who starred at Edward Little. “We were a little worried, but all of us knew we deserved it.
Now the Polar Bears are hoping to make a Maine-dominated field uncomfortable at the New England Regional Championship, which begins today on Cape Cod. They face St. Joseph’s College at 1 p.m. at Whitehouse Field in Harwich, Mass. The University of Southern Maine opens the double-elimination tournament this morning against Salem State.
Bowdoin earned the first NCAA bid in its history Monday after making just its second appearance ever (and its second in three years) in the New England Small College Athletic Conference tournament. The Polar Bears won the conference regular-season title with a school-record win total.
It turned out the most important games for Polar Bears’ NCAA hopes came back in April against conference powers Trinity and Tufts. They lost the first two games of a weekend series at Trinity but won the third. Then, after dropping a snow-shortened decision to USM, they swept Tufts in a three-game series at home. It was the turning point of the season.
“Coming off of a successful Florida trip, we were pressing a little bit at the start of that Trinity series, and we learned from that,” said senior center fielder Jared Lemieux, a Maranacook graduate.
The Polar Bears followed a time-tested formula.
“It sounds simple, but pitching and defense,” said Mike Connolly, who is in his seventh season as head coach. “Every day we played, for the most part, we had very good pitching and defense.”
“Depth in pitching has probably been the biggest thing for us. We’ve been able to win our midweek games with quality starts,” said junior pitcher/utility infielder Tyler Turgeon, a St. Dom’s product. “Going to a tournament like this where you have the potential to play five games in three days, having depth of pitching becomes a huge factor.”
Cheverus graduate Trevor Powers is the ace of that deep staff, which posted a strong 3.02 earned run average.
The offense has held up its end of the bargain, too. Sparked by the speedy Lemieux and power-hitting Ricky Leclerc in the middle of the order, they hit .342 as a team this spring.
“Offensively, we just finally clicked,” said Lawler, who hit .303. “We finally put all the pieces together that we haven’t in the past. We were averaging 12 or 13 runs down in Florida and if we’d played in warm weather, we’d probably still be putting up those kind of numbers.”
“We’ve been running more this year, taking advantage of our speed,” said Lemieux, who was second on the team with 25 steals. “It’s a great way to get guys in scoring position and to start rallies without having to waste an out with a bunt or something.”
At No. 7, Bowdoin is ranked at the bottom of the regional seedings (St. Joe’s is No. 2, USM, No. 5). That’s rubbed some players the wrong way based on their regular-season success, but Connolly downplayed his team’s draw. The Polar Bears, he said. have nothing to lose.
“What I’m telling the guys is to have fun,” he said. “All the pressure is gone. The pressure is in getting to this point.”