The last time the Binghamton softball team squared off with Albany at home, it was handed a season-ending loss in the fourth round of the America East (AE) Tournament. In the most recent meeting between the Bearcats (13-19, 5-2 AE) and the Great Danes (18-14, 3-7 AE) in Vestal last Wednesday, BU declined a repeat performance, sweeping its doubleheader to start conference play on a four-game streak.
“We definitely feel good about opening up the way that we have and we’re off to a good start,” said BU head coach Michelle Burrell Johnston.
Despite dropping two of three games to UMass Lowell over the weekend, the Bearcats rank second in the AE and, halfway through conference play, are poised to contend for both the regular-season title and championship. Binghamton captured its first conference championship in 2015, upsetting top-seeded Stony Brook in back-to-back games. Last season, BU earned the regular-season crown before falling to Albany.
In last week’s sweep of the Great Danes, senior pitcher Shelby Donhauser proved key to the Bearcats’ success. Donhauser missed a month of action after suffering a concussion at the Maryland Tournament and came back with a vengeance in BU’s 4-0 shutout of Albany, allowing just one hit over seven scoreless innings in game two.
“It was a little emotional for me,” Donhauser said. “All I wanted to do was get back on that field and once I did, it didn’t matter. I knew my team was behind me and I felt confident.”
Last season, Donhauser pitched just 22 innings and recorded a 10.18 ERA. This year, after the graduation of pitcher Cara Martin and transfer of pitcher Sarah Miller, she is the lone veteran on a staff that includes freshman pitchers Rozlyn Price and Rayn Gibson. Against Albany, the freshman duo finished with a joint ERA of 2.00. In addition to the game two victory, Donhauser also recorded the win in the opener, throwing a shutout final inning to secure BU’s 6-5 win.
“She came out and fought and stayed really composed,” Burrell Johnston said. “I thought our defense definitely helped her out with some good outs and I was really pleased with her performance.”
While the defense committed just one error, the Bearcats offense combined for 12 hits. Binghamton — which ranked fifth in Division I in batting average last season — is fourth in the AE with a .271 batting average this year. Junior center fielder Jessica Rutherford leads BU with a .404 clip from the plate. Against the Great Danes, senior shortstop Crysti Eichner went 4-for-5 with three runs.
In game one, Binghamton entered the top of the seventh trailing, 5-4. Donhauser allowed a hit but quelled the threat. In the Bearcats’ half of the inning, junior left fielder Carrie Maniccia drove in Eichner on a sac fly to knot the score at five. It was senior designated player Gabby Bracchi who scored the walk-off run, hitting a single before stealing second, and then home, on a throwing error.
On Saturday against UMass Lowell, (15-17, 7-3 AE), the Bearcats dropped the opener, 7-6, before rebounding to take the nightcap, 4-2. Rutherford continued her prowess from the batter’s box, hitting .375 on the day. Maniccia, Eichner and junior third baseman Kate Richard each hit home runs. In Sunday’s rubber match, BU fell, suffering its worst conference loss of the season. The River Hawks exploded for five runs in the top of the first. BU responded with four of its own in the bottom of the third, but UMass Lowell tacked on seven more runs in the next two innings to secure the 12-4 win.
The Bearcats are set to return to the field on Tuesday for a nonconference doubleheader against Buffalo. First pitches are scheduled for 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. from the Bearcats Sports Complex in Vestal, New York.