The Binghamton softball team had one goal during the 2013 regular season: to host the America East tournament.
The Bearcats went on to win 30 games — a program record — en route to holding home field advantage in the double-elimination tournament. But Binghamton faltered under pressure and failed to reach the championship game.
“We had a great season last year, but I think we let the pressure in the tournament setting get to us a little bit,” said senior second baseman Jessica Bump, who led the team with a .349 average and 10 home runs. “It’s not something we really focused on, but we’ve learned from it.”
Instead of circling the conference tournament on their schedule, the Bearcats — who were picked third in the America East coaches preseason poll — will begin their season focusing on their next opponent only.
“I think this year we’re really going to take this one-step-at-a-time mentality and not really think about getting ahead of ourselves,” Bump said. “Just take one game at a time and come out of every game or weekend with things we can continue to improve on and become more consistent as the season goes on.”
The Bearcats avoided the most recent winter storm to pummel the Northeast, trekking down to Florida for a tournament hosted by University of South Florida. Binghamton will open its 2014 campaign this afternoon against the hosts (1-2), who lost their No. 23 ranking after dropping a pair of games to top-5 opponents. The Bearcats will face No. 2 Tennessee at night.
Jennie Finch, the former University of Arizona standout and USA softball gold medalist, met with Binghamton on Feb. 3.
“I think her advice for us going into this first weekend really helped us,” Bump said. “She said you step on the field and it’s 0-0, and at that point, it’s anyone’s game … We don’t really have anything to lose.”
Former America East Co-Player of the Year Jessica Phillips graduated and Tiffany McIntosh transferred, but the Bearcats return the bulk of their offensive firepower. Returning Bearcats combined to hit 36 of the team’s league-leading 47 home runs last season, besting No. 2 Albany’s team total of 33.
Phillips and McIntosh belted 11 home runs last year, but head coach Michelle Burrell said she expects sophomore Griffin McIver to help fill the void.
“Griffin McIver has worked really hard both over the summer break and winter break,” Burrell said, “and I expect her to have some good power numbers.”
The Bearcats, who ranked second in the America East with 82 stolen bases last season, will once again keep opposing pitchers and catchers under pressure. Sophomore Sydney Harbaugh stole a team-high 28 bases, while Bump swiped 16.
“We have a good balance of both speed and power. I think the great thing is everyone’s able to contribute in their own way,” Bump said. “We have power hitters. We have girls that just get on base and are really aggressive on the bases and put pressure on the defense.”
While the offense boasts several experienced players, senior Demi Laney is the only returning starting pitcher from last year’s staff, which featured Rhoda Marsteller and Kate Price, who both graduated in 2013. Sophomore Stephanie Arneson made three appearances, with one start.
Laney, who led the Bearcats with a 15-8 record and 2.52 ERA, said she devoted her offseason to improving her stamina.
“Lots of hundreds — like sprinting hundreds — and jogging and a lot of elliptical machine workouts,” Laney said of her regimen. “Basically anything I can do to keep my heart rate up.”
Laney’s goal is to never tire, like Albany senior Brittany MacFawn, who tossed a five-inning perfect game against Binghamton in 2011 and led the America East with 27 wins and a 1.64 ERA in 256.1 innings pitched in 2013.
Laney said she hopes to compete with MacFawn for the innings pitched title.
“I’d love to have the ball,” she said, “so it’s up to coach.”
Burrell said she expects a pair of freshmen to join Laney and Arenson in the rotation: Annika Wiesinger and Shelby Donhauser.
With Bump and Laney leading the team, the Bearcats should once again be a threat to win the America East tournament.
“I think we definitely want to get back there,” Burrell said. “I think last year was an experience for us. That’s what we’re using it as … I think we’ll be in a better spot if we get back there this year.”