Wrapping up its regular season with a series loss to conference rival Boston University, the Binghamton University softball team will make its first-ever appearance in the upcoming America East Championship.
In the series opener, junior Kristen Emerling pitched well, but Binghamton’s offense could not capitalize on its six hits and lost 3-2. The Bearcats used a six-run rally in the sixth inning to beat the Terriers 8-7 in the second game, and in the series finale Binghamton ultimately fell 7-4 after leading 3-2.
With the weekend’s results, the Bearcats (22-21, 10-7 America East) locked up the No. 3 seed in the upcoming America East Championship and will face University at Albany Thursday in the first game of the double-elimination tournament.
The Great Danes (25-21, 14-4 AE), who earned a share of the regular season crown, beat the Bearcats twice in a three-game series in April.
Even so, Binghamton has reason to enter Thursday’s opener with confidence. It dropped the opening game of the teams’ regular season meeting by just one run as its pitching contained Albany senior slugger Gina Mason, who led the Great Danes with a .419 batting average, five home runs and 27 RBI. She recorded just one hit in nine at-bats against Binghamton.
“I think our pitchers did a really good job of mixing it up with [Mason],” head coach Michelle Burrell said. “We used all our pitchers, and I think we’ll look to keep mixing it up.”
Binghamton will likely see Albany freshman pitcher Brittany MacFawn in Thursday’s tournament opener. She compiled a 13-6 record while posting a 2.31 ERA in 30 appearances this season, including tossing a perfect game against the Bearcats.
Following Thursday’s opener, Binghamton will play either Boston University or University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
The Terriers (32-16, 14-4 AE) tied Albany for first place in the regular season and earned the tournament’s No. 1 seed thanks to a tiebreaker. They led the conference with a .286 batting average, and Burrell said she would apply the same strategy to the Terriers’ hitters as she will to Albany’s Mason.
“They’re a very good offensive team and we’ll look to mix it up a little bit with our pitching,” she said.
UMBC, the No. 4 seed, is Binghamton’s other potential opponent. In the regular season, the Bearcats dropped the first game against the Retrievers before outscoring them 18-1 in the final two contests.
With a .286 batting average, the Retrievers’ hitters rank only behind Boston’s, but their pitchers hold the highest ERA among tournament teams at 3.51.
“We’ll look to be aggressive and get people on and run,” Burrell said. “I think they’ve kind of been throwing one of their pitchers a lot, so we’ll look to get ahead early.”
Binghamton faced UMBC starting pitcher Stephanie Weigman in each of the three regular season meetings, and in 13 innings tagged the senior for 17 hits and nine earned runs. The duo of sophomore Jessica Phillips and senior Deannie Plemon, who hit back to back in Binghamton’s lineup, combined for seven hits and as many RBI in 18 at-bats against the Retrievers. Senior first baseman Stephanie DeLuca also swung a hot bat against UMBC, going 6-for-14 with two home runs and six RBI in the series.
“It’s good to have the two of us back to back because there’s a good chance that one of us will hopefully be able to come through for the team,” Plemon said.
The tournament has a double-elimination format, and each team will play at least two games but no more than five. The team that wins its first two games advances straight to the championship.
“We’re going to take it one game at a time,” Burrell said. “[We even want to] break it down smaller than that and take it one inning and one at-bat at a time.”
The upcoming innings and at-bats could lead to a berth in the NCAA tournament, a career-long goal for many of the team’s seniors. But advancing this far is already an accomplishment in itself as this year marks the first conference tournament appearance in program history. But for some Bearcat players, a berth to the NCAAs would be another exciting addition to what has already been a historical season.
“It’ll be icing on the cake,” DeLuca said.