On Thursday night, the No. 1 seeded Binghamton women’s soccer team hosted No. 5 seeded UAlbany in the America East (AE) tournament semifinals. After 90 minutes, two extra periods and nine penalty kicks, the Bearcats emerged victorious, defeating the Great Danes and advancing to the AE championship game.
“It was exciting — maybe a little bit too exciting,” said Binghamton head coach Neel Bhattacharjee. “We’ll take it. You get to this point of the season. It’s about surviving and advancing, and that’s what we did today.”
BU (9-5-4, 6-1-1 AE) entered this game off of one week’s rest courtesy of a first-round bye, while Albany (7-8-5, 3-2-3 AE) was set to play its second postseason match. The Great Danes had just come off a 3-1 quarterfinal win just four days prior on Sunday. Although the two squads had faced each other just once this season, their history can be traced back a year ago to the 2021 AE quarterfinal game, where Albany ended the Bearcats’ season in shutout fashion. The Bearcats flipped the script on Thursday night, getting their revenge.
“You just saw us fighting, competing, and they didn’t wanna walk off this field without a win,” Bhattacharjee said. “I just give them so much credit, so much heart. They wanna do this for their teammates, and they wanna keep this season going, and we’re having fun doing it.”
Scoring from both sides was limited in the first half as the Bearcats added the frame’s lone goal early. Binghamton’s score came just under nine minutes into the match, when sophomore forward Peyton Gilmore sent a short cross into the box from the left side. The ball ended up right in front of senior midfielder Olivia McKnight, who volleyed the feed past the Great Dane goalkeeper. The all-conference pair earned BU its first goal of the postseason. Both sides went scoreless through the rest of the period, entering the break with a 1-0 Bearcat advantage.
“We had a little bit of everything,” Bhattacharjee said. “I thought we did exceptionally well in the first half, and we were a little bit unlucky to only be up 1-0. If we had gotten a second goal in the first half, the dynamics of the game would have been different.”
The second frame started faster than the first, with Albany coming out of the break looking for a quick answer to its deficit. The visitors knotted up the score less than three minutes into the second period when they pierced through the Binghamton defense and ultimately put a shot past sophomore goalkeeper Kaitlyn Williams. The Great Dane offense did not stop there, however, as they took a 2-1 lead just 10 minutes later. Albany’s attack forced Williams to press up, and although she deflected the attempt, the ball popped behind her, slowly rolling into the net.
“We gotta give credit to Albany,” Bhattacharjee said. “We knew they were gonna fight, they were gonna come back … I’d give our team so much credit. That result was just effort, that was heart.”
Although down and facing a win-or-go-home battle, BU stayed resilient by peppering the opposition with shots and giving itself multiple opportunities to tie the match. The Bearcats’ efforts soon paid off when senior forward Maya Anand put a sliding attempt from the right side into the net, evening the match at 2-2 with 10 minutes left to play. Both teams had chances to take the lead, but neither converted, sending the match into extra time.
“It was back-and-forth the whole game so we went ahead in that first overtime,” O. McKnight said. “This team, we’ve come back from going down a goal, so I knew we weren’t done yet. I knew we still had that fight. We love each other, we fight and pick each other up.”
BU entered overtime with momentum, controlling the possession and pressuring the Great Dane defense. Then, just four minutes into the extra period, O. McKnight took the lead for the Bearcats off of an assist from her sister, junior midfielder Victoria McKnight. Albany, however, refused to give up — putting in its own overtime score five minutes later — and tied the match at three apiece. This concluded the period’s scoring as both teams entered the second overtime period. Despite 10 more minutes of action, neither team added to their totals, sending the match into penalty kicks. With the season on the line, the Bearcats looked to senior goalkeeper Nicole Scott in goal for the shootout.
“Coming into it I was just focused on my girls,” Scott said. “I love them to death and I would do anything for them. It was just amazing and the support from the fans, my family and my team was just great.”
Both teams scored on each of their first two penalty attempts during the shootout, including a shot from O. McKnight that narrowly squeezed by the outstretched Great Dane keeper. However, Albany’s third attempt was saved as Scott dove to her left, giving junior midfielder Molly McClelland a chance to take the lead. McClelland converted, sending a shot bottom right into the twine. The next two attempts were saved by both keepers, setting the stage for Scott with a chance to send BU to the AE championships. As Albany sent a shot her way, the senior deflected it and secured the victory for the Bearcats.
“We’re playing a very good opponent [Sunday] in UNH,” Bhattacharjee said. “They’re the only conference team that got a win on this field, so we certainly wanna have an opportunity to come back at them … We know that they’re gonna be hungry and they’re gonna be ready.”
BU’s trip to the finals marks its second appearance in three years. It will host No. 2 seeded New Hampshire on Sunday, Nov. 6 for a chance to win the AE title for the first time since 2004. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at the Bearcats Sports Complex in Vestal, New York.