Behind yet another strong pitching performance, Binghamton softball swept Stony Brook in a three-game series this weekend.
The Bearcats (26-13, 13-2 America East), who clinched at least second place in the conference with two wins on Saturday afternoon, can still win the regular season title and host the league tournament. To do so, they’ll need to beat first-place Albany twice in next weekend’s three-game set.
Hosting the tournament has been a season-long goal for Binghamton head coach Michelle Burrell and her players.
“We’re definitely excited about the position we’ve put ourselves in,” Burrell said. “I’m glad that it comes down to whoever wins this series.”
The Bearcats positioned themselves within striking distance by beating the Seawolves (25-22, 7-8 AE) by a combined score of 11-4 over three games.
In the series opener, BU junior pitcher Demi Laney kept Stony Brook scoreless through the first six innings, and solo shots by senior left fielder Jessica Phillips and freshman catcher Taylor Chaffee, whose nine home runs are tied for the team lead, gave Binghamton a 2-0 lead entering the bottom of the seventh.
But a one-out throwing error by junior third baseman Mikala King allowed two Seawolves to advance into scoring position. One out later, a Stony Brook single tied the game.
“We obviously didn’t want to give up the lead that late,” Burrell said. “But I still felt like we stayed in control and stayed composed.”
And displaying her composure at the plate, freshman designated hitter Tiffany McIntosh led off the eighth with a walk. Senior Shannon Kane, inserted as a pinch runner for McIntosh, stole second and eventually scored the go-ahead run on a two-out single by Chaffee.
Laney, who struck out 10 and didn’t allow an earned run, secured the 3-2 victory for the Bearcats.
“I think [Laney] got us out of some jams, and she just pitched very well,” Burrell said. “She stayed composed, and even though our defense wasn’t as strong as we normally are behind her, I thought she definitely picked them up and stepped up in the situation.”
After struggling in last week’s doubleheader at Colgate, senior Rhoda Marsteller tossed a six-hit, 3-0 shutout in the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader.
“We’ve talked [since] early on that we definitely are a pitching staff,” Burrell said. “I think Rhoda had a fantastic weekend after a couple of rough outings. Like Demi, she really stepped up and helped our defense.”
For much of the game, the Binghamton offense remained relatively quiet. But a two-run McIntosh homer in the seventh gave Marsteller a cushion of insurance entering the last frame, and she retired the side in order.
In Sunday’s series finale, the Bearcats and Seawolves engaged in a scoreless battle until the fifth inning, when Binghamton exploded for five runs.
Burrell said her team’s early lack of plate discipline kept production at a minimum, but after adjusting their eyes to the strike zone, the Bearcats drew five fifth-inning walks.
“We talked about making sure we were staying within our strike zone because we were swinging at pitches that weren’t necessarily strikes early on,” Burrell said. “So when we did that we were able to take advantage of the walks.”
Binghamton needed just two base hits to plate its five runs.
Stony Brook scored twice in the sixth but did not come any closer as the Bearcats finished the sweep with a 5-2 win.
Laney, who started and tossed four scoreless innings, picked up her 13th victory of the season. She has struck out 141 batters, which leaves her two shy of the program’s single-season record of 143, set by Michelle Weeks in 2003.
After hitting .375 on the week with two home runs and six RBIs, Chaffee earned America East Rookie of the Week honors for the third time in the last four weeks.
The Bearcats are set to visit Cornell for a non-conference doubleheader on Wednesday before hosting Albany with the regular season title on the line this weekend.
First pitch against the Big Red is set for 3:30 p.m. at Nieman-Robison Softball Field.