Jennie Finch inspired the Binghamton softball team on Feb. 3, reminding the Bearcats that the name on the front of the jersey cannot determine the winner of the game.
With that advice ringing fresh, the Bearcats knocked off South Florida in their season-opening game at the USF Tournament and nearly defeated Pittsburgh of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Binghamton (2-3) returned to New York with a pair of wins, the only other losses coming to No. 1 Tennessee and Illinois.
In Friday’s season opener against host South Florida, the Bearcats (2-3) scored on an error and posted a 1-0 win. The Bulls (4-4), whose only other losses came against top-five teams, appeared at No. 25 in the preseason NFCA Coaches Poll.
“I think it was a great way to … start off the season,” BU head coach Michelle Burrell said. “It was definitely a big win for us. I think the girls saw when they play really well that they can beat top competition like that.”
The offense didn’t heat up with the southern weather, producing just two hits and two walks in 25 plate appearances, but senior pitcher Demi Laney and the defense worked out of every jam. Sophomore catcher Taylor Chaffee pegged out three Bulls on the bases, and the Bearcats did not commit an error.
“We scored the run on their mistakes,” Burrell said, “but that’s sometimes how the game goes — it’s more about who makes mistakes and who doesn’t.”
The Bearcats fell to the Vols (9-0) on Friday night, allowing at least one run in every frame of the five-inning game.
“We couldn’t keep it going against Tennessee,” Burrell said, “but Tennessee obviously is a great team and a great program and has, possibly, some of the best hitters we’re going to see.”
With Laney overpowering the opposition and the offense registering 13 hits, the Bearcats downed Wright State, 9-0, on Saturday morning. Freshman outfielder Bridget Hunt belted the first home run of her collegiate career. She finished the tournament with six hits in 14 at-bats.
“She makes things happen both offensively and defensively,” Burrell said. “She stepped right into our program and did that for us in the first weekend. She had great composure, and I think she was confident.”
The Bearcats followed the Wright State win with a 15-2 loss to Illinois (8-2). Laney surrendered three earned runs in 1 2/3 innings, and the Fighting Illini touched home in every inning but the third.
But the beat down did not deter the Bearcats in their tournament finale against Pittsburgh (5-5). Binghamton ultimately landed on the wrong side of a back-and-forth game, falling 11-10, but the Bearcats displayed resiliency after the Panthers erased a 6-4 BU lead with three runs in the bottom of the fifth.
Binghamton responded with four runs in the top of the sixth, the go-ahead single coming off the bat of sophomore designated hitter Griffin McIver. But Pittsburgh answered with four runs, and the Bearcats couldn’t drive in freshman outfielder Gabby Bracchi with one out in the last inning.
Sophomore outfielder Sydney Harbaugh lined out to first to end the game.
“That ball goes two feet in either direction, we probably score the run and at least force the bottom of the inning,” Burrell said. “Even though it was a loss, we felt good with how we competed that game.”
Sophomore first baseman Lisa Cadogan posted a team-high .500 average on the weekend, while Laney finished with two wins, one loss and a 2.77 ERA in 17 2/3 innings.
The Bearcats are set to participate in UNLV’s Eller Media Stadium Classic at the end of the month. Binghamton’s first game is scheduled for Feb. 28 at 6:45 p.m. against Seton Hall.