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Laney’s centrality on softball field translates to leadership in dugout

The pitcher is the center of a softball team. Unlike her baseball counterpart, who typically takes the mound just once a week, a college softball ace pitches nearly every game, making her a natural leader on the field.

Michael Contegni/Staff Photographer Senior pitcher Demi Laney has recorded a program record 441 strikeouts entering this weekend’s series against Stony Brook.

Binghamton softball’s Demi Laney has undoubtedly embraced that role.

“I always view that the pitcher is the heart of the field,” Laney said. “If the pitcher is down then the whole team is down … We play well when we are having fun.”

Laney’s confidence and enthusiasm has certainly been a factor in her development into one of the best pitchers in school history.

“When [Laney] is out on the mound and comes to practice, she truly wants to be there and she enjoys it,” BU head coach Michelle Burrell said. “She has worked really hard for everything that she has gotten.”

Even when she isn’t on the mound, Laney remains at the heart of the team, leading chants and supporting her teammates from the dugout. Once she crosses the foul line, however, she locks in, focusing on retiring the opposing batters.

Over the weekend, Laney struck out 11 batters in a victory over Maine, cementing herself as one of the program’s all-time greats. The series bumped up her record to 441 career strikeouts, which broke the school’s 12-year standing record of 431 strikeouts, set in 2002 by Margaret Yerdon.

“[My strikeout record] means hard work,” Laney said. “I couldn’t do it without my team. I think it’s a huge accomplishment and it is very exciting. I honestly didn’t really know I was in the running for it.”

But Laney’s maturation into one of the most dominant pitchers in the conference almost didn’t happen. Laney came to Binghamton with the aspiration of being both a pitcher and a hitter, a feat rarely accomplished in softball due to the strain placed on the top pitchers. With this in mind, Laney quickly realized she had a major decision to make in the near future.

“I thought that splitting time in practice between pitching and hitting really took away time from my pitching,” Laney said. “We clearly have way better hitters, so I decided to just take away that aspect and fully work on pitching.”

Fortunately for the Bearcats, Laney’s choice proved a lucrative one — she ascended to full-time pitcher status after her sophomore season.

Laney’s pitching has been constantly improving since then, a testament to her tremendous work ethic. She has trained to add pitches to her repertoire — which keeps hitters off balance — as well as to become more consistent.

“When she first came in, we really worked on her being consistent with her curveball,” Burrell said. “We really worked on getting consistent with a couple of pitches. That worked well and she really bought into the idea that she could beat teams with two pitches as long as she spotted them where she needed to. Through each year she has added another pitch. This year, she has been able to use everything.”

Her best season came in 2013, when she delivered one of the best performances of any Binghamton pitcher. She collected 15 wins and struck out 171 batters in 164 innings, meriting her selection to the America East all-conference team that year.

Laney has nearly matched those numbers this season, recording 13 wins and striking out 112 over a span of 149.2 innings. With one series and the conference tournament remaining, the senior has the potential to continue boosting her stats as the Bearcats pursue their ultimate goal — winning the conference tournament and advancing to the NCAA championship.

Binghamton (20-21, 9-5 AE) is scheduled for its final regular-season series this weekend, during which it will host conference-leader Stony Brook (30-15, 13-1 AE).

First pitch of today’s doubleheader is set for 2:30 p.m. at the Bearcats Sports Complex while Sunday’s finale is slated for noon.