ORONO, Maine — University of Maine softball coach Lynn Coutts was disappointed but she was also upbeat after Tuesday’s 5-3 America East setback to Boston University at Kessock Field.
“That was our game [to win],” said Coutts. “It was a moral victory for us. We know we can beat them.”
Maine could have clinched the fourth and final seed in the America East Tournament with a win but the Black Bears (15-27 overall, 6-8-1 in the conference) are still in good position, needing just one win in their three-game set at the University of Hartford this weekend to sew up the berth. Harford is 9-39, 3-12, respectively.
Binghamton (16-27, 7-11) would claim the fourth seed if Hartford sweeps Maine. Binghamton has completed its league schedule.
The Terriers rallied from a 2-0 deficit, scoring three unearned runs in the top of the seventh to build a 5-2 lead and then withstood a two-out rally by the Black Bears in the bottom of the seventh to enhance its prospects to win the America East regular-season championship and host the tourney.
BU (34-13, 12-3) visits last-place UMBC (19-28, 1-14) for three over the weekend while Albany (12-3 in the conference) and Stony Brook (12-2-1), the other title challengers, square off for three at Stony Brook.
Margaret Hilton’s two-run opposite-field homer in the second staked Maine to a 2-0 lead but Brittany Clendenny’s two-out RBI infield single in the third cut the lead in half and Chelsea O’Connor’s long one-out homer to left in the sixth off Ashley Kelley tied it.
“It was low and inside. I think it was a changeup,” said O’Connor, whose homer was her fifth of the season. “I needed to do something to get my team excited. I was just looking to hit something really, really hard. That felt so good.”
“That ball was down but she hit it hard. It happens,” said Kelley who turned in 5 ⅔ innings of solid seven-hit two-run ball.
“I was pretty happy with it,” said Hermon’s Kelley.
BU reliever Whitney Tuthill retired the first seven hitters she faced but singles by Jessica Burk, Jennifer Eberhardt and Dagmar Ralphs loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the sixth.
Jean Stevens scorched a one-hop liner that hit Tuthill in the midsection. The ball dropped at Tuthill’s feet and she threw home for the force out before Hilton followed with a soft liner into Tuthill’s glove.
“That was frustrating,” said Stevens. “But what can you do?”
Beth Spoehr, who had come on in relief of Kelley in the sixth, walked BU’s Jayme Mask to open the seventh and Erica Casacci sacrificed her to second.
Megan Volpano walked and both runners advanced on Clendenny’s grounder to third.
A passed ball on a cross-up between Spoehr and catcher EmJ Fogel resulted in a passed ball that produced the go-ahead run.
Fogel said she changed the signs because BU’s runner at second was stealing the signs.
“I called for a curveball and (Spoehr) threw a screwball that I wasn’t ready for,” said Fogel who had the ball hit off her glove.
O’Connor followed with a ground ball that went between second baseman Kristen Koslosky’s legs for another run and Chelsea Kehr’s bad-hop infield single and an ensuing throwing error by shortstop Eberhardt produced the final run.
However, the Black Bears weren’t done, either.
Tuthill got the first two outs in the seventh but the Black Bears strung together singles by Fogel, Jessica Burk, Eberhardt and Hilary Kane to cut the lead to 5-3 but left fielder Casacci made a nice running catch in left center on Dagmar Ralphs’ opposite-field fly ball to end the game.
“I thought it was going to drop in but it didn’t,” said a relieved Tuthill.
Amy Ekart had two singles for BU while Burk and Eberhardt had two apiece for Maine.
“We made some clutch defensive plays when we had to,” said BU coach Shawn Rychcik, who pulled starting pitcher Holli Floetker in the third inning because she has been battling illness and injury.
Tuthill finished up to get the win.
“Even though we were down 2-0, we’re pretty confident that we can come back,” said Tuthill.
Coutts said she wasn’t surprised her team rallied in the seventh.
“These girls won’t quit,” she said. “There were a lot of positives. We needed this game to get ready for the tournament.”