Rachel Tomei/Staff Photographer Senior outfielder Jessica Rutherford now has the highest career batting average in Binghamton softball history after going 9-for-11 against Hartford.

In its final series of the regular season, the Binghamton softball team swept Hartford in three games, winning 7-2, 11-9 and 12-2. The Bearcats (16-23, 9-9 America East) locked up the fifth seed in the 2018 AE Tournament with their victories. The Hawks (10-32, 0-18 AE) finished in last place in the conference for the fifth straight year. For the third time in four years, Hartford failed to win a conference game.

In her final regular-season appearances as a Bearcat, senior outfielder Jessica Rutherford powered the Bearcats to victory in all three games. Throughout the series, Rutherford went 9-for-11 with four doubles, a home run and six RBIs. She also improved her career batting average to .389, the highest in program history.

“I was just seeing the ball well,” Rutherford said. “It was a good day weather-wise, so I was just out there having fun swinging the bat, hoping it went well.”

The series began with a doubleheader on Friday afternoon. During the first game, the Bearcats jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the third inning, including a double and a two-run home run hit by sophomore pitcher Rozlyn Price. The Bearcats ultimately won, 7-2.

Game two was a beyond-productive offensive performance for both teams, with the Bearcats scoring runs in five out of the six innings. It was in this game that the Hawks showed the most resilience. With BU up 2-0 in the third, Hartford hit a three-run bomb, taking the lead. In the top of the sixth, Hartford tied the game at five and in the top of the seventh, the Hawks hit a grand slam to cut their deficit to two runs. However, Binghamton did not let up and preserved the save, capturing the game 11-9.

“I just really liked that our offense was working from the start of the game all the way through,” said BU head coach Michelle Johnston. “I think they were pretty confident offensively in knowing that even when Hartford got ahead, we could get back.”

Saturday’s series finale marked senior day for the Bearcats. Rutherford, infielder Kate Richard, infielder Carrie Maniccia and infielders Stephanie Bielec and Jillian Bovitt were honored for their time as Bearcats, which included one AE Championship and two regular season titles.

“Our seniors have meant so much to this program,” Johnston said. “We really appreciate all the work that they put in.”

After allowing one unearned run in the top of the first inning, the Bearcats went to work in the bottom frame. While the bases were loaded, sophomore infielder Kassidy Seary hit a two-RBI single to propel Binghamton to a 2-1 edge. Singles by sophomore catcher Sara Herskowitz and freshman outfielder Lauren Martinez contributed to three more runs and the Bearcats took a 5-1 lead, prompting a pitching change by Hartford.

“I thought as soon as [BU] got some momentum they kind of ran with it,” Johnston said. “I think that’s exactly what we need for next week.”

The Hawks’ new pitcher was welcomed to the game by facing Rutherford, who hit an RBI single, extending the Bearcats’ lead to five, but appeared injured on the play and exited the game. Rutherford returned two innings later.

“[Rutherford’s] fine,” Johnston said. “She’s got a sore spot on her foot, and the ball hit her right where that spot is. She was ready to come back a little sooner than when I put her back in.”

In the bottom of the third, Rutherford returned to the game, reigniting the crowd with an RBI double, one of four runs the Bearcats scored in the inning, which culminated in a 10-2 margin. As a result of leading by eight runs or more in the bottom of the fifth inning, the forfeit rule applied, and the Bearcats won 12-2, securing the sweep over Hartford.

With the regular season over, Binghamton’s focus turns to the 2018 AE Softball Tournament, which it will be hosting at the Bearcats Sports Complex. The fifth-seeded Bearcats will take on the fourth-seeded Maine Black Bears on Wednesday in their opening matchup of the double-elimination tournament. With a win, BU will face first-seeded Albany on Thursday. With a loss, they will play the loser of the Stony Brook versus UMBC game later Wednesday afternoon.

“We haven’t had the best start [to the season], but we can always come back,” Bovitt said. “I’m really confident in what we have going for ourselves right now.”

First pitch in the Bearcats’ 2018 AE Tournament debut is set for 11 a.m on Wednesday, May 9.