Since the outset of America East play, the Binghamton softball team has had its sights set on one main goal: to host the conference tournament in May. And with this weekend’s sweep of Maine, the Bearcats (18-11, 8-1 America East) are one step closer to doing so.
The regular season conference champion hosts the four-team, double-elimination tournament, and Albany lost its perfect mark on Saturday by splitting a doubleheader with Stony Brook. The Great Danes (21-10, 8-1 AE) and Bearcats, who won’t face off until the final regular season series, are now locked in a first-place tie.
“We’re really pumped that [Albany lost] because now we have a shot to bring the America East [tournament] here,” Binghamton junior pitcher Demi Laney said. Laney earned AE Pitcher of the Week honors after allowing just two earned runs while fanning 15 in nine innings against Maine (6-32, 2-7 AE).
A week after dominating UMBC 22-3 over three games, Binghamton never trailed Maine and outscored the Black Bears 24-2 to extend its winning streak to seven games, the program’s second-longest winning stretch since joining Division I in 2002. A doubleheader sweep of St. Bonaventure on Wednesday would break Binghamton’s record of eight-straight wins.
As the Maine series approached, Binghamton head coach Michelle Burrell said she wanted to attack early to pressure the Black Bears’ pitching and defense. And that’s just what the Bearcats did in each of the three games.
In the first inning of the series opener, junior second baseman Jessica Bump led off with a single and scored on a two-out, two-run home run by freshman first baseman Lisa Cadogan. Bump drove in two runs the following inning, and freshman catcher Taylor Chaffee belted a grand slam as the Bearcats tacked on eight second-inning runs.
Bump would account for the Bearcats’ final run with a third-inning solo shot, and Binghamton prevailed 11-2 in five innings.
Binghamton coasted to a 5-0 win in the second half of Saturday’s doubleheader with BU senior pitcher Rhoda Marsteller tossing a gem. Bump singled in a run in the second, and sophomore shortstop Caytlin Friis belted a three-run shot in the fifth to create separation. Marsteller threw seven innings of five-hit ball for the shutout.
In Sunday’s series finale, the Bearcats played aggressively on the base paths and used another three-run Friis homer to tack on seven second-inning runs. After falling behind in the count with one out and runners on second and third, Friis found a pitch she could drive and put Binghamton on the board with the first three runs of the game.
“It was a clutch hit,” Burrell said. “She’s doing a really good job. She’ll get two strikes on her, and she stays in there and keeps a good approach at the plate.”
But Burrell was not satisfied with her team’s complacent approach after building an early lead. The Bearcats would ultimately win 8-0 in six innings.
“We let up a little bit once we got a lead,” she said, “and we want to make sure that we don’t do that and that we’re still working to put pressure on every inning and have quality at-bats every at-bat.”
Over the weekend, the Binghamton offense showcased its balance of power and speed, belting five homers and swiping 11 bases on 11 attempts.
“I think we’ve got speed that we can do a combination of things, and I think that variety in our lineup is definitely helping and allows us to be aggressive,” Burrell said.
Chaffee, who repeated as AE Rookie of the Week, hit a team-high .714 on the weekend while Bump batted .625 to improve her season average to .341. Friis led the Bearcats with two home runs and six RBI.
Binghamton is set to face St. Bonaventure in a non-conference doubleheader this Wednesday before visiting Hartford for a three-game conference set over the weekend. First pitch against the Bonnies (5-31, 2-12 A-10) is set for 3 p.m. at McGraw-Jennings Field.