Published May 17. 2014 4:00AM
Harwich, Mass. - In a Hollywood script, Mitchell College would still be playing in the NCAA Division III baseball tournament.
The eighth-seeded Mariners would write a dramatic and happy ending to their surprising success story and then receive a hero's welcome back on their New London campus.
While the reality is they haven't reached an elite level, they proved this week they're moving in a positive direction despite suffering a season-ending 9-2 loss to sixth-seeded Saint Joseph's College of Maine in a Harwich Regional losers' bracket game Friday morning at Whitehouse Field.
"This isn't the final step, the ultimate step," coach Travis Beausoleil said of his postgame message to his team. "This is the first step."
The Mariners (24-14-1) accomplished just about everything on their pre-tournament wish list. They played competitive baseball against the top teams in New England. They gained some respect by shocking top-seeded team Eastern Connecticut State University in the first round and losing a tight two-run game to Endicott College on Thursday.
They boarded the bus Friday for the ride home satisfied with their tournament run.
"It's definitely a tough way to go out, especially for the seniors," said Gavin LaLima, a junior from Waterford. "But nobody expected much out of us and I think that we accomplished more than what people thought.
"Nobody really gives us any respect. It puts our name on the board and shows that Mitchell has some game and we can play and compete with anybody here, and these are the top teams in the region."
The Mariners made too many mistakes Friday to stay alive. They committed two base-running blunders and had two fielding errors. The Monks (30-14) knocked around senior right-hander Mike Tandy (5-3), who allowed 12 hits and seven runs in 5.1 innings.
They showed some punch offensively, banging out 13 hits, but stranded 11 runners. Saint Joseph's starter and winner Joe Gruntkosky (6-0), who went 7.2 innings, made a nice living on the corners.
After a scoreless first three innings, the Monks broke through, registering a single run in the fourth, two in the fifth and four in the sixth for a 7-0 lead.
"We let the game get away from us a little and fell a little too far behind," senior Marc Dorsi said.
Trailing 9-0, the Mariners prevented the shutout by scoring two runs in the eighth on junior Ryan Goodwin's sacrifice fly and senior Will Charkowsky's single.
Dorsi, junior Evan Peck, junior Rafael Garcia and junior Blaze Iannetti had two hits apiece.
The Mariners played without one of their top hitters in Neftali Arroyo, who suffered a concussion in Thursday's 4-2 loss to Endicott.
To a teary-eyed Dorsi, Friday's defeat meant that he had spent his final day on the diamond with his close baseball family.
"It's more about the relationship that I had with these guys," Dorsi said. "It's tough to leave this. It's a family. When you get on a team, it's just a strong family bond that you create. … It's a journey that you'll never forget."
The Mariners set a program record for wins, won the New England Collegiate Conference tournament coming out of the losers' bracket, qualified for the program's second trip to the NCAA tournament and won the school's first NCAA game.
Beausoleil believes the program has a bright future. He'll need to take advantage of the recruiting boost that an NCAA appearance provides to improve the team's depth.
"With the core that we're returning, there's nothing insurmountable," Beausoleil said. "Eastern Connecticut was the No. 1 team in New England and we beat them. Endicott was a very good baseball and we played right with them. The score won't reflect how well we matched up with Saint Joe's.
"There's no one in New England that we should be intimidated by."