Less than a week after clinching a spot in the America East tournament for the fifth consecutive year, the Binghamton University baseball team saw its impressive 12-4 start to the conference season come crashing down.
BU (21-28, 13-12 AE) lost six of its final seven league games to finish its regular season conference schedule just three games above .500. The late-season slide continued into the postseason as the third-seeded Bearcats watched their season come to an end after dropping the opener to University of Maine 4-3 before falling 4-1 to the University at Albany to tumble in elimination.
Binghamton, the reigning regular season champion, met No. 2 Maine in the opening round of postseason play, and the Bearcats sent senior James Giulietti to the mound, leaning on the veteran to put an end to the team’s late-season slide.
Despite eight solid innings of work from the senior southpaw, the Bearcats came up just short. Maine broke a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the sixth and added an insurance run in the eighth to pull ahead of the Bearcats 4-2.
In the top of the ninth, trailing by two, BU staged a rally. With two outs, the Bearcats put three straight runners on base and drove in a run with a single off the bat of sophomore third baseman Jordon Smucker. The rally and the game ended, however, when a hard-hit come-backer off the bat of freshman second baseman Daniel Nevares caught Maine pitcher Keith Bilodeau on the hip and rolled to catcher Tyler Patzalek, who fired to first to get Nevares by half a step for the final out of the game.
“It was such a strange way to end a ball game that I think our guys were kind of in shock of what happened,” said Binghamton head coach Tim Sinicki. “I think they all thought Nevares’ ball was headed up the middle to the outfield and we were gonna score the tying run. It just ended on a very strange play, it ended very abruptly and I think our guys were a little shell-shocked at the way things kind of finished in that ball game.”
In the following day’s must-win matchup against fourth-seeded Albany, the lingering shock of the previous day’s loss to Maine may have played a role in the Bearcats’ effort, according to Sinicki.
“I don’t know if it was a carry-over effect into Thursday’s game against Albany,” he said. “But we just didn’t come out and swing the bats well in that elimination game, and ultimately, if you can’t score, you’re not gonna win any ball games.”
The Bearcats did scratch first, however, with an RBI single from senior right fielder Peter Bregartner in the top of the fifth that put BU up 1-0, but the Bearcat offense would prove unable to strike again.
Junior Mike Augliera tossed seven scoreless innings before running into trouble just six outs away from securing the win. The Great Danes tacked Augliera for two earned runs in the eighth and added a pair of insurance runs in the ninth to take the game 4-1.
With the loss, the Bearcats, whose conference mark now stood at 13-12, were eliminated from the tournament after just two games for the second consecutive year.
Both of BU’s tournament opponents would meet in the championship game, with Maine crushing the Great Danes 10-1 to become the 2011 America East champions. The Black Bears would go on the face University of North Carolina in the NCAA tournament, falling to the Tarheels who would go on to play in the College Word Series.
In spite of the disappointing close to the 2011 season, a slew of individual members of the BU baseball team did not walk away empty-handed. A record-matching nine Bearcats received America East honors. Bregartner, Augliera, junior first baseman Dave Ciocchi and senior reliever Zach Juliano were named to the America East first team, while senior left fielder Corey Taylor, catcher C.J. Lukaszewski and sophomore starter Jay Lynch garnered second-team honors.
Freshman center fielder Bill Bereszniewicz and shortstop John Howell were named to the All-Rookie team. Bereszniewicz, who hit a team-high .353 on the year, was also named a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball.
“You always have to look at the big picture, and while we all wanted to win the conference and go to the NCAA tournament, just because you don’t accomplish that doesn’t mean there weren’t some positives that came out of the season,” Sinicki said. “And the big picture is we had some great individual performances throughout the course of the year and those guys were honored for it … There’s a lot to be proud of.”
Roughly one month after the season’s conclusion, Giulietti signed a professional contract with the Edinburg Roadrunners of the North American League, the world’s largest independent professional baseball league. Giulietti, who tossed two hitless innings of relief in his professional debut on June 24, became the 25th Bearcat to land a professional deal. Despite some struggles this season, the southpaw shone in 2010 when he ranked 13th in the nation with a 2.14 ERA and recorded 74 strikeouts en route to being named the America East Co-Pitcher of the Year.