After falling to a talented Stony Brook team 7-3 in its 2019 America East (AE) Championship opener, the Binghamton softball team remained calm, regrouped and took to the field immediately afterward to face off against tournament host Hartford in an elimination game. The Bearcats responded well, earning a 5-3 victory against the Hawks and advancing to day two of the tournament.
“I’m happy with the way we responded after the first game,” said BU head coach Michelle Johnston. “We kinda just talked about working to play tomorrow. I feel like we’re in a good spot as far as the pitching we have right now and the depth of our staff that we can get through this.”
Entering the tournament seeded sixth, the Bearcats (18-28, 7-13 AE) were set for a challenging first matchup against third-seeded Stony Brook. The Seawolves (30-17, 12-7 AE) were led by the 2019 AE Player of the Year, junior pitcher Melissa Rahrich (17-11). This is Rahrich’s second consecutive year receiving this honor. Rahrich, in addition to being first team all-conference as a pitcher, led the conference in home runs and RBIs.
“You don’t find many players that can pitch and hit and do everything she does for their team,” Johnston said. “She’s got a great presence on the mound. I thought we did a much better job offensively off her today, but she stays composed and obviously what she can do offensively is just a huge asset for their team.”
Perhaps the most notable storyline of game one for the Bearcats was the return of junior pitcher Rayn Gibson to the field. Gibson, the ace of the pitching staff, was injured following Binghamton’s April 14 matchup and hadn’t played since. Entering the game, Johnston believed there was a slight chance Gibson would be back, and she was able to return and make the start.
“Having her back is just adding to the staff that we have for the tournament,” Johnston said. “[Freshman pitcher Morgan Bienkowski] did a really good job in game two, so I think we feel really good about all of them.”
Gibson struggled in her return, albeit against a strong opponent, and only lasted into the second inning. She returned in the bottom of the sixth and finished the game, allowing one more run in Binghamton’s 7-3 loss.
“Overall I though we hit the ball pretty well,” Johnston said. “We left a lot of runners on base and weren’t necessarily coming up with that clutch hit early on, in both games, early.”
With just 40 minutes to prepare, Binghamton had to face off against tournament host Hartford (20-31, 6-14 AE) in an elimination game. Bienkowski was on the mound, after being named to the AE all-rookie team the night before. The teams exchanged runs in the first inning, and the Hawks took the lead in the bottom of the second. In the bottom of the seventh, with Binghamton clinging to a one-run lead, sophomore utility player Sarah Benn was able to tally another RBI to give Binghamton an insurance run and a 5-3 lead. Bienkowski took down the first three batters in the bottom of the seventh to give BU the win and advance the Bearcats to day two of the tournament. Not only did the Bearcats defeat the Hawks, but they also set a new record for hits in a playoff game. Their 14 hits broke the previous record of 13 set in 2015.
“They stayed really composed,” Johnston said. “We were kinda in a tight game, and I thought they had a really good presence as far as how they were approaching both offense and defense. So I just liked how they stayed composed and thought they were trusting each other and trusting that they were going to be able to get some momentum at some point.”
After advancing to day two of the tournament, the Bearcats will play another elimination game in the final game of the day. They will face the lower-seeded loser of the first two games of the day, potentially UMBC, Albany or a rematch against Stony Brook. While BU will play only one game today, its opponent will have to play two.
“I don’t know if it necessarily gives us an advantage,” Johnston said. “I do think it helps us knowing that we only have to play one [Thursday].”
Johnston has yet to decide who will be in the circle for the Bearcats and said a decision probably won’t be made until the opponent is known.
First pitch of today’s game is set for 4 p.m. from the Hartford Softball Field in West Hartford, Connecticut.