The men's baseball team kicked off its season in Florida over spring break, winning its first five games and finishing with an overall 10-6 record. Bowdoin outscored its opponents 72-61, while holding them to just 19 runs in their 10 wins.
"It is harder to grind through physically and mentally pitch to pitch when you've played that many games in a short amount of time," Head Coach Mike Connolly said. "But it doesn't mean it can't be done."
Although the team performed well in games it won, it allowed an average of seven runs in losing games, while only producing roughly three of its own.
"We were a little inconsistent," Connolly said of Bowdoin's hitting, "but I think that's going to improve as the season goes along."
Starting the long season with a solid winning record in March is an important achievement for the Polar Bears, because the players "have to show a lot of not only physical toughness but mental toughness to make sure that they are playing their best from start to finish," Connolly said. This same physical and mental toughness, is necessary for success in a competitive postseason.
One of the unquestionable strengths apparent in the Polar Bears' spring break slew of games was their pitching, with numerous noteworthy performances. After missing the 2011 season due to an elbow injury, captain Tim Welch '12 returned with two strong starts totaling 11 innings, with 11 strikeouts and a 0.00 ERA.
"Welch had a fantastic trip," Connolly said. "I was not surprised, but I was happy for him for all of the work that he's put in. Coming off Tommy John surgery this last year, it had been 18 months [since] he had thrown his last competitive pitch. To have him go down there in his two starts, to throw 11 innings without giving up an earned run, I was ecstatic for him."
Oliver Van Zant '13 was one pitch shy of a no-hitter against Endicott, and pitched six innings against Suffolk with only three hits and no earned runs. He was awarded the NESCAC Pitcher of the Week Award for his performances.
With strong pitching in a majority of its games, the Polar Bears have established a certain foundation built around preventing hits.
"The players work very hard," Connolly said. "We started with a talented group, and that group has worked really hard through the last summer, through the fall and through the offseason and put themselves in a position where they are all better than they were last year."
Besides the input of effort on the players' behalf, Bowdoin's pitching has also been aided by the coaching staff, which has grown alongside the improvement of the bullpen.
"Coach Jensen and Coach Pace, who work with our pitchers, are both phenomenal teachers, great people, and great mentors for that group," said Connolly. "They certainly deserve a lot of the credit in terms of the time, the effort, and the thought process that goes into our throwing progressions."
The Polar Bears' top hitter thus far has been catcher Dan Findley '13. His .423 batting average is the highest on the team, as are his 22 hits and 16 RBI.
As a sport, baseball is often more about perfecting defensive performance than it is about hitting the most home runs. Connolly has focused on controlling the amount of extra opportunities the team allows its opponents.
"Whenever we win the free base battle—and for us free bases are walks, wild pitches, stolen bases, errors, missed cuts—whenever we gain more free 90 feet than the other team, we always win the game," he said. "It never comes down to that three-run homer, it never comes down to that 15-strikeout performance. When we won the free base battle [in Florida] we were 10-0. When we lost it, we were 0-6."
Continuing its season tomorrow with a home doubleheader against Wesleyan, the Polar Bears hope to grow and build on their success from earlier in the month. Christian Martin '14 will open in the first game at noon, hoping to maintain his 3-0 starting record, while Welch is slated to start in the 3 p.m. game.
The team's record, the promise of the pitching thus far, and the overall performance has elevated its hopes for this season.
"March gave us a glimpse of what we can be," said Connolly. "In April, we have to be just a little bit more consistent. If we're more consistent, then we have a chance to be a championship team."
Coaching this year for his 14th season, Connolly has the most wins of any coach in Bowdoin baseball history and led the team to its first 20-win season ever in 2004.
And even after finishing runner-up in the NESCAC last season, Connolly said that the 2012 squad is "probably the best team we've had in recent memory in terms of pitching and defense, and that's what wins championships."