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Baseball clinches No. 3 seed for AE tourney

After a 7-3 rubber-match victory over Albany and a 2-1 Maine loss to UMBC, the Binghamton baseball team clinched the three seed entering the America East championship tournament.

The Bearcats (21-24, 11-12 AE), the conference’s reigning champions, will contest for the title on Thursday at UMass Lowell. Binghamton is slated to play second-seeded Hartford at 6 p.m. in game two of the tournament.

While BU’s conference appearance this postseason will be its eighth straight, Hartford’s marks its first since 1996. The season has been especially successful for the Hawks (30-21, 16-7 AE), whose roster features the conference’s most potent pitcher in junior Sean Newcomb. Newcomb owns a league-leading 1.36 ERA and has gone undefeated in AE play with six wins.

Had the Great Danes preserved their dominance over Binghamton through both teams’ regular-season finale, BU would have faced top-seeded Stony Brook instead. But after Albany swept its visitors in Saturday’s doubleheader at Varsity Field, Binghamton’s Sunday victory came in rally style. Senior center fielder Bill Bereszniewicz fired off a two-run single in the third inning to get the Bearcats on board first, and freshman designated hitter Jextin Pugh followed up with a double in the fourth to plate another two. Additional runs in the next two innings put the Bearcats up by six before the Great Danes could even muster one, which they finally managed in the bottom of the sixth.

Freshman pitcher Nicholas Liegi kept those first five innings scoreless, allowing just one hit and striking out two. The former walk-on lowered his ERA to 1.82 through the game. Relievers Mike Bunal and Tsuyoshi Horibata threw the final four innings to preserve the Bearcats’ win.

On Saturday, BU was dealt 5-2 and 5-4 losses, respectively. The Great Danes mound featured a nine-inning blowout from sophomore Brendan Ryan in game one. Ryan scattered six hits, recorded one strikeout and allowed just two unearned runs during the game.

Junior ace Jack Rogalla pitched opposite Ryan, but passed only four innings on the mound after allowing five runs on seven hits. Junior Greg Ostner replaced him for an additional four, scattering three hits in that time frame.

After three Albany runs, Binghamton made it on the board in its half of the fourth when Bereszniewicz scored on a double and an error. The team was unable to score again until the ninth inning, at which point senior first baseman Shaun McGraw laced an RBI single to plate senior second baseman Daniel Nevares. Albany out-hit Binghamton 10-6 through the game.

The nightcap saw more success from the Bearcats. Both Albany and Binghamton faltered through four scoreless innings before the former disrupted the game’s stalemate with two runs. BU answered quickly – plating one of its own – but a three-run home run from Albany senior designated hitter Brian Bullard entrenched his team’s lead, 5-1.

The Bearcats did string three together in the seventh off an RBI single from Bereszniewicz and a two-hit, two-run single from Nevares, but a groundout stifled the sudden success and ended the game.

Bereszniewicz and Nevares both recorded two RBIs in that contest, while junior right fielder Zach Blanden scored two runs and went 3-for-4. Bereszniewicz enters the tournament boasting a .366 batting average, good for first in the conference.

The games followed Binghamton’s final nonconference outing – a two-game series played against Boston College last weekend. BU dominated in the first game, slugging two homers and recording 13 hits en route to a 9-3 win. BC requited the next day with a 5-3 victory, effectually putting the brakes on BU’s eight-game win streak.

First game of the AE championship tournament, between SBU (33-16, 18-5 AE) and fourth-seeded Maine, is set for 2 p.m., with Binghamton and Hartford’s contest to follow, tentatively at 6 p.m. All games will be played at LeLacheur Park in Lowell, Mass.