In February, back when a layer of snow covered the Bearcats Sports Complex, Michelle Burrell said she wanted to host the America East’s softball tournament on Binghamton’s new field.
That goal seemed lofty at first, as the Bearcats (28-13, 13-2 America East), who failed to reach the conference tournament in 2012, opened their season with just two wins in the first nine games.
But with one regular season series left on slate — this weekend against first-place Albany — the fourth-year head coach and her team can achieve their goal. The Bearcats will play host if they take two out of three from the Great Danes (30-11, 13-1 AE) at the Bearcats Sports Complex.
Binghamton has never won an America East regular season title, but it clinched at least second place, its highest-ever finish, with last weekend’s sweep of Stony Brook.
Despite the stakes being higher than ever before, Burrell said her team’s approach won’t change.
“We play every game like a must win,” she said. “We’re going to try to stay relaxed, take the first game and go from there.”
Thanks to a freshman corps that adjusted to the college game rather quickly, Binghamton tops the America East charts in nearly every major offensive category. The Bearcats lead the conference in batting average (.302), slugging percentage (.479), on-base percentage (.392), runs scored (242) and home runs (42).
Albany, meanwhile, boasts the America East’s most dominant pitcher, junior Brittany MacFawn. As a freshman, MacFawn tossed a five-inning perfect game against Binghamton, and she has only become more effective since. Her 24 wins and 248 strikeouts lead the conference, and her 1.98 ERA ranks second.
With MacFawn likely starting at least two of this weekend’s games, the series will feature a clash of power pitching and power hitting.
“We’ve been able to see her for two years now, and she definitely likes to get ahead,” Burrell said. “So we’re definitely going to look to be aggressive on the first pitch.”
The Binghamton freshman corps of first baseman Lisa Cadogan, catcher Taylor Chaffee, designated hitter Tiffany McIntosh and right fielder Sydney Harbaugh have never faced MacFawn. Burrell said their approach should be the same as the experienced hitters’, stressing that plate discipline will also be key.
“[MacFawn] doesn’t walk a lot of batters so we can’t go up there looking for a walk,” Burrell said. “But we also want to make sure that the pitch we go after is something we can hit hard.”
Though facing MacFawn might be a daunting task, Binghamton can counter with a solid pitching staff of its own.
Junior Demi Laney has led the way with 14 wins, five shutouts and a 2.42 ERA, but senior Rhoda Marsteller has blanked each of her last two opponents to lower her ERA to 2.77. Senior Kate Price’s 3.59 ERA ranks among the conference’s top 15.
Most recently, the trio combined to toss 14 scoreless innings in Binghamton’s non-conference doubleheader sweep of Cornell on Wednesday. Marsteller, who had struggled against Colgate but shut out Stony Brook, pitched all seven innings of the Bearcats’ 1-0 nightcap victory. She allowed just three hits while fanning 10.
First pitch of Saturday’s doubleheader is set for 1 p.m. at the Bearcats Sports Complex, with the series finale scheduled for Sunday at noon.