After a promising end to last season, the Binghamton softball team will return nearly its entire roster for its upcoming campaign. Picked fourth in a tight America East (AE) preseason coaches poll, the Bearcats are expected to contend for a conference championship in their 2020 contest.

“I think we’ve got some really good experience coming back,” said Binghamton head coach Michelle Johnston. “We feel really good about the leadership and experience we do have. I think we learned a lot last season and came on strong at the end, so we’re really looking forward to building on that.”

Last year’s team was exceptionally young, with only two graduating seniors on the roster, neither of whom were starters. As a result, the Bearcats have brought back nearly all of last season’s lineup.

After experiencing growing pains with a young team throughout the regular season, the Bearcats crept into the postseason as the No. 6 seed, but came together in the AE Tournament. After falling in the first game, the Bearcats battled back through the loser’s bracket and earned consecutive victories in elimination games to advance to the third day of the event.

“Our energy was really great in the tournament, and I think just seeing that we could do that and what we’re capable of is really good for our momentum starting the season this year,” said sophomore utility player Alli Richmond.

In the circle for both playoff wins was sophomore pitcher Morgan Bienkowski, who threw back-to-back complete games in her first two playoff appearances as a freshman. She will play a role in a deep group of Binghamton pitchers this season, including senior Rayn Gibson, senior Rozlyn Price and junior Chelsea Howard.

Calling the pitches behind the plate will be senior catcher Sara Herskowitz, a veteran who has been a starter for her entire time with the program. Offensively, Herskowitz led the team with 36 RBIs last season and was second on the team in home runs.

Elsewhere in the lineup, three second-team all-conference players return to the team this season: sophomore infielder Marissa Braito, junior infielder Makayla Alvarez and junior utility player Sarah Benn.

Braito, Bienkowski and Richmond are a part of a strong sophomore class that contributed to the team as freshmen and are expected to take strides in their second season with the program.

“We’re definitely more comfortable this year,” Richmond said. “We’ve created a lot of good relationships with people on our team, and the junior and senior class have done a really god job with leadership and making us feel comfortable every day.”

At the conclusion of the regular season, the Bearcats will have the luxury of competing in the postseason on their home field. The AE Tournament will return to the Bearcats Sports Complex for the fourth time in five years.

“I’m really excited [to host the AE Tournament],” Alvarez said. “I think it’s going to be really important for our seniors too, getting to finish here. I think it’s exciting because we get a lot of our home fans, and a lot of our families get to come out, and just being comfortable on our own turf I think will be really helpful.”

Prior to league play and the postseason, the Bearcats will head to the South for the next few weeks to participate in several nonconference tournaments. The team will be challenged with a diverse slate of competition, including several Power Five conference teams.

“I knew the team that we had coming into this year, and a goal of mine was to build as competitive of a schedule as I possibly could,” Johnston said. “I think we definitely have that with the teams we’re playing,”

Binghamton will open its season this weekend at the Aggie Classic on the campus of Texas A&M University. First pitch in the team’s season opener against St. John’s is set for 11 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 14 at Davis Diamond in College Station, Texas.