After falling to Stony Brook on the third day of the 2019 America East Baseball Championship, the Binghamton baseball team knocked out Hartford and entered the championship as heavy underdogs. Facing Stony Brook once more, the Bearcats needed to win two in a row over the Seawolves to claim the championship — but Stony Brook won the first match over BU by a 7-5 margin to take the AE title.
The Bearcats (26-24, 12-9 AE) hosted the tournament at the Bearcats Sports Complex. BU head coach Tim Sinicki said they put forth a strong effort despite falling short in the end.
“They were upbeat after last night’s game and looking forward to a challenge,” Sinicki said. “We knew what we had to do. We knew trying to play 18 innings today of good baseball and trying to beat a very good team like Stony Brook was going to be a challenge.”
Entering the tournament seeded third, Binghamton took on the defending champions, No. 6 Hartford (23-34, 11-13 AE) in its first playoff matchup. Junior Ben Anderson, the 2019 AE Pitcher of the Year, performed brilliantly in what was possibly his final appearance as a Bearcat before potentially being drafted to the MLB, allowing only one run in a complete game pitched. However, the Binghamton offense was stymied throughout much of the game, with the exception of sophomore outfielder Shane Marshall.
In the bottom of the ninth, with runners on second and third and the score tied at one, Hartford made the decision to intentionally walk BU’s leadoff hitter, redshirt junior outfielder Daniel Franchi, to bring Marshall to the plate. Marshall delivered with the walk-off RBI single, finishing the game 4-for-5 at the plate and advancing the Bearcats to a matchup against No. 2 Albany on the second day of the tournament.
The Bearcats cruised past Albany on Thursday, earning a surprising 18-4 blowout victory. The Great Danes (28-23, 14-9 AE) entered the tournament as winners of nine consecutive games, including two over Binghamton. In the third inning, with the Bearcats leading 6-0 and the bases loaded, junior catcher T.J. Wegmann stepped up to the plate and crushed a grand slam, giving Binghamton an insurmountable 10-0 lead. The offensive firepower, combined with a strong game pitched by senior Nick Gallagher, propelled BU to the third day of the tournament.
Entering Friday, Binghamton and No. 1 Stony Brook remained the only undefeated teams in the tournament and were set to face off for a bid in the championship round, and the ability to win just one game to claim the title. Prior to Binghamton’s win over Albany, Stony Brook came from behind to beat UMass Lowell after falling behind 6-2 in the top of the eighth. At that point, a lengthy rain delay set in, and the River Hawks’ momentum dissipated after play resumed. Stony Brook came back to earn a 7-6 walk-off victory and set up the game against Binghamton, while UMass Lowell was eliminated later in the day by Hartford.
Freshman Thomas Babalis, the AE Rookie of the Year, was on the mound for the Bearcats against the Seawolves (31-21, 15-9 AE). After a two-run blast from Marshall in sixth gave the Bearcats a 2-1 lead, the Seawolves responded with four runs in the bottom half to take a 5-2 lead. Staving off a late comeback, Stony Brook won the game 5-4 and advanced to the title game out of the winners bracket.
BU was able to regroup in the succeeding hours and perform well against No. 6 Hartford in the final game of the day. The Hawks, after losing to Binghamton in their tournament debut, rattled off three straight wins in elimination games, but could not come up with a fourth. Marred by a lack of available pitchers, the team allowed 10 runs in the first six innings, and the Bearcats came away with a 10-5 victory and advanced to the final day of the tournament.
Entering the championship series out of the losers bracket is always an uphill battle. Since the conference expanded the baseball tournament to six teams in 2016, the underdog has never won the title. The biggest challenge Binghamton faced was a lack of pitchers, with four games played in the first three days and all four starting pitchers unavailable to start.
“The mindset was really, really good last night after the game and we came to the park today for warmups ready to go and I think we showed that we were ready to play from the first pitch of the game to the very last out,” Sinicki said.
Freshman pitcher Ryan Bryggman made his first collegiate start in the game, Gallagher put forth a gritty effort in relief on short rest and Binghamton jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the fourth inning, but Stony Brook was able to take over for the rest of the game, scoring five unanswered and claiming the title, winning 7-5.
Despite falling in the championship, the Bearcats competed hard throughout the strenuous tournament, and Sinicki said he was pleased with the performance put forth over the four days.
“It’s great character, great kids in this program, and that’s what we pride ourselves on,” Sinicki said. “I never know if we’re the most talented team in the conference, but I always believe in my heart that we’ve got kids who work hard and battle and fight till someone says the season is over. Unfortunately, that came up a little bit earlier than we wanted it to today, but it doesn’t diminish what we’ve accomplished all season long.”