There was a loaded count with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. The Binghamton softball team was clinging to a one-run lead, with freshman pitcher Chelsea Howard on the mound for the Bearcats, and junior third basemen Alyssa Derrick at the plate for Maine, with a runner on first. Howard pitched a strike, and Derrick crushed a long home run to deep center field. In an instant, the season was over for Binghamton. The Bearcats (17-25, 9-9 America East) fell to the Black Bears (22-24, 9-7 AE) in walk-off fashion by a score of 4-3 in an elimination game to conclude their 2018 season.
“I just told [the team] that game’s on me,” said BU head coach Michelle Johnston. “We were basically pitching around Derrick, we got greedy, kinda got ahead of her and thought we could go after her, and obviously the result.”
The mood was somber postgame at the Bearcats Sports Complex Thursday evening. Binghamton, hosting the America East Tournament for the third straight year, suffered a two-run walk-off home run in front of its home fans in Vestal, NY.
“Obviously not the way we wanted our season to end,” Johnston said. “Just a lot of emotions. I think we’re upset this is how we finished. [Howard] pitched a really good game. It was one pitch, one pitch.”
Until that moment, Howard (3-3) had only allowed two runs and five hits in a complete game pitched.
“[Howard] has done a really good job,” Johnston said. “We’ve put her in some really tough situations all year, and up at Maine, for the series, we put her in some really tough situations, and that’s why we threw her today. We knew she could come out and beat these guys, and unfortunately it came down to one pitch at the end.”
Derrick has now homered in all three of Maine’s tournament games, and is batting .228 on the season with eight home runs total.
Earlier in the day, BU had been defeated 9-0 by top-seeded Albany, which made the game against Maine a must-win to keep its season alive.
“We obviously didn’t play our game against Albany,” Johnston said. “I think we had our opportunities early on in this game to score some more runs, but they responded, and I thought they were working hard, and that’s all we can ask.”
The Black Bears fell to Binghamton in their tournament debut on Wednesday, but recovered to defeat UMBC later that day, and avenged their loss to Binghamton on day two.
The end of the season marked the final appearance of several revered Bearcats, including senior outfielder Jessica Rutherford, objectionably one of the greatest players in school history.
“I feel bad for all of our seniors.” Johnston said. “When they get out on the field, they’re all out on the field, and they love, truly love going out and playing all out, and I’ll miss that from them.”
This season saw BU take a significant step back, as the team finished in first place in each of the previous two seasons. Due to renovations, the team was unable to play at its home field until a week before the tournament began.
“It’s been a hard year,” Johnston said. “I think just not having a field to practice on and traveling as much as we did, it was a tough year and I give our kids a lot of credit. They controlled what they could.”
Despite the heartbreaking loss, the future is still bright for the Bearcats. Along with Rutherford, sophomore first basemen Kassidy Seary and sophomore designated player/pitcher Rozlyn Price were both named to the all-conference first team. Howard and freshman shortstop Makayla Alvarez, along with senior third basemen Kate Richard, were named to the all-conference second team.
“It didn’t matter where we were going to play, but we were going to go out and try to play our game the best we could,” Johnston said.