Since placing first in the conference and winning the regular season America East (AE) Championship for the second consecutive season in 2017, the Binghamton softball team chartered unfamiliar territory in relation to its successful program history, finishing at 9-9 in conference play last season. Two consecutive 1-2 performances in the AE Tournament, a lack of a consistent home field and the departure of outfielder Jessica Rutherford, ’18, have highlighted the event-filled seasons. Amid the inconsistency, a persistent message of staying together as a team resonated throughout the team’s media day on Monday.
“We were just really trying to work for each other and learning to not be selfish [in the offseason],” junior pitcher Rayn Gibson said. “We were learning to be the best for the team, not be the best for me, so taking the ‘me’ out of it is a big focus that we’ve been doing.”
The Bearcats hosted the conference tournament last season, defeating Maine in the first round and falling to Albany and the Black Bears in the double-elimination bracket. Now with the departure of one of the team’s most productive hitters in Rutherford, BU boasts a roster that features depth in its pitching staff, youth in its outfield and speed at the top of its lineup.
“Obviously we were disappointed with our conference play last season, as well as the conference tournament, but I think it’s obviously a new year and new faces,” BU head coach Michelle Johnston said. “We got freshmen who are gonna be making an impact right away, so it feels it is a different team than last year … we’ve added some really good speed to the lineup, so we’re excited.”
Binghamton’s pitching is headlined by Gibson and classmate junior pitcher Rozlyn Price, both of whom started on the team since they were freshmen. Gibson earned second-team all-conference honors two seasons ago and has led the team in wins in each of the past two years. Price enjoyed a breakout season last year, earning a first-team all-conference selection as designated player. Additionally, returning for the Bearcats are senior Makenzie Goluba and sophomore Chelsea Howard, and BU is bringing in a freshman pitching class of Morgan Bienkowski and Binghamton native Sophia Pappas.
“We have a really big pitching staff this year, so we have six pitchers on staff,” Johnston said. “We’re really excited about the staff that we have … with [Bienkowski] and [Pappas], our two freshmen, I think that’s going to be one of our challenges is figuring out how to manage our staff and who works well off of each other.”
The top of the Bearcats’ lineup is expected to be bolstered by the speed of freshman outfielder Chloe Morgan and classmate infielder Marissa Braito, giving the team a new look at the beginning of its order. With Rutherford graduating, Morgan is expected to start in her place this season.
“We’re gonna miss [Rutherford], but we brought in a freshman this year, Chloe Morgan,” Johnston said. “She’s been working out in center field and she’s been doing a really good job … she’s just really athletic and really gritty out there and will run through a wall … we’ve added some really good speed to the lineup so we’re excited. We’re probably gonna have speed in our top two positions and we’re excited about how we’re gonna be able to run a little bit more and how that’s gonna change things offensively.”
After calling Ithaca and Chenango Valley High School home for most of its home games last season, all of Binghamton’s home games will be played in Vestal, a welcomed symbol of consistency for a team looking to rebound from a disappointing 2018 season.
“Our field is great and some of us have been able to get out there the past couple of weeks,” junior infielder Kassidy Seary said. “It’s gonna be nice not having to worry about whether we can play on the field or not play on the field, and we’re all really excited for that first home game.”
Binghamton will begin its season on the West Coast, participating in the CSU Northridge Early Bird Classic, playing five games from Feb. 15 to 17 and squaring off against CSU Northridge, CSU Bakersfield and Santa Clara University. The Bearcats open their season against Bakersfield at 3:30 p.m. EST from Matador Diamond in Northridge, California.