When sophomore outfielder Jessica Rutherford crossed home plate in the bottom of the fourth inning of Saturday’s nightcap against Hartford, she had no idea the Binghamton softball team had clinched the first seed in the America East (AE) tournament just moments before. With UMBC’s upset of Maine on Saturday, the Bearcats (32-13, 14-3 AE) earned their first-ever regular-season title and became the first BU program to capture an AE regular season crown since 2010.
While the Retrievers’ win secured Binghamton’s bid, the Bearcats needed little help themselves, defeating Hartford (6-42, 2-14 AE), 9-1, 10-2, in consecutive mercy-rule victories.
The Binghamton offense, which ranks sixth among all NCAA Division I teams with a .350 batting clip, was dominant once again, overpowering the Hawks with 23 hits during the doubleheader. Rutherford went 4-for-5 in the series, including a first-inning double in game one that gave BU a one-run lead it never relinquished.
After tacking on another two runs in the third, the Bearcats displayed their power in the fifth when senior catcher Taylor Chaffee launched a home run over the wall in right center to plate two. After a single from junior shortstop Crysti Eichner in the next at-bat, Hawks’ sophomore pitcher Bianca Ross was pulled from the circle after allowing six runs in four innings.
Even with a fresh arm on the mound, Hartford failed to quell Binghamton’s offense, as senior designated hitter Griffin McIver blasted a two-run homer of her own to center to increase Binghamton’s advantage to 7-1. The power show was just the start, though, as the next three Bearcats kept the rally going, with a single by junior outfielder Gabby Bracchi serving as the final blow for the Hawks, who went down in just five innings.
“One through nine for our team [in our lineup] right now is just on fire,” Rutherford said. “We’re all feeling it. It doesn’t matter who’s up; we all have faith in every single one of us.”
Holding it down on the mound for Binghamton in the opener was sophomore pitcher Sarah Miller, who allowed just one run in five innings to improve to 15-6 on the season. Senior Cara Martin continued to puzzle the Hawks in game two, holding them to just four hits.
“[Sarah Miller and Cara Martin] both did a great job and I think that gives us a lot of momentum going into next week,” BU head coach Michelle Burrell said. “They just kept really good composure throughout the entire game.”
In game two, Hartford struck first, going up, 1-0, in the first on junior infielder Lexi Wilkerson’s single. Despite the Hawks’ early lead, the Bearcats had more than an answer, scoring in each of the following three innings to pull ahead, 10-2, by the end of the fourth. Three of BU’s runs were thanks to a Rutherford homer to right field in the third, marking the fourth time that Rutherford, who was named the AE Player of the Week for her performance this weekend, has gone yard this year.
The remainder of the matchup followed a similar script to game one. The Hawks managed to scrape across a run in the top of the fifth, but that was all the Bearcats would give up, as Martin held on to secure the sweep.
Binghamton’s first-place finish in the regular season means the Bearcats will be hosting the AE tournament, an opportunity that the team is ready to take advantage of.
“I honestly just think [the girls] enjoy playing here,” Burrell said. “I think this is a good advantage for us because they do so well here,”
“Well” is quite the understatement, as BU has gone 10-0 on its own field this year and is one of only two teams in Division I softball still undefeated at home.
The 2016 AE Softball Championship will kick off on Wednesday at 11 a.m. at the Bearcats Sports Complex with a matchup between No. 4 Stony Brook and No. 5 UMBC. Binghamton has a first-round bye and is set to face either the Seawolves or Retrievers in a second-round game on Thursday with first pitch scheduled for 11 a.m.