BY GARTH SHANKLIN
of the Scout
The weather outside may be cold, but if you’re looking for a reminder that spring is just around the corner, look no further than the Bradley softball team.
The team played its season-opening tournament, the Kajikawa Classic, this past weekend in Tempe, Ariz. With competition that included Big Ten universities Indiana and Penn State and Pac-12 member California, the Braves got an early test.
Bradley fought hard, but couldn’t pull off a victory. The team lost to Indiana and Colorado State on Friday.
On Saturday, Bradley lost to number 24 California 10-3 and Penn State 5-3 before wrapping up the tournament Sunday with an 8-4 loss to San Jose State.
The Braves held leads in the games against California and San Jose State but couldn’t close them out. Coach Amy Hayes said she knows the team has to get better at sealing the deal.
“It’s about calming the nerves a little bit and finishing,” she said. “We really only had one poor game. Other than that, we played really well. We just didn’t finish. We didn’t play for seven innings.”
The inability to close out games can’t be attributed to a lack of leadership. Bradley lost only one player from last year’s team, Mackenzie Camp, and has six returning seniors this year. One of those seniors, pitcher Madeline Lynch-Crumrine, said she knows this isn’t a young team anymore.
“We’ve been looked at in the past as a young, inexperienced team. Now, we’ve got leadership and experience under our belt, and we’re going to really get things rolling,” she said.
One of the leaders on the team is senior Baileigh Basham, who has seen her role shift slightly as she progressed through her college career. Basham led the team in batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage last season, despite missing the last 10 games of the season with a thumb injury.
Hayes said Basham is just one player on the Braves who may find herself at a different position depending on the day.
“Basham has found herself behind the plate, at third base, second and first,” Hayes said. “We’ve got a lot of kids who can play multiple positions. We’re just trying to find the right place for them.”
Regardless of who plays the field, Hayes said she believes the pitching staff is one of the Braves’ strengths this season.
“I think we have one of the best staffs in the Valley,” she said. “A lot of teams may have one good pitcher, but not all that many have a complete staff like we do. It’s just a matter of getting them clicking at the same time.”
Last season, Lynch-Crumrine and Mackenzie Camp anchored the Bradley pitching staff. Camp finished her Bradley career with 254 strikeouts, good for eighth most in program history.
Now that her college career is over, it’s time for another Brave to step up and be the number two starter on the team. When asked how the team would replace Camp, Hayes gave a simple answer.
“With a freshman,” she said.
Freshman Jaelen Hull, to be specific. Hull comes to Bradley from Bishop McNamara High School where she was named the conference player of the year her senior season. It’s a deserving honor, since she posted a perfect 28-0 record while also hitting just shy of .400.
“Jaelen’s come a long way,” Hayes said. “It’s hard because you’ve got a kid coming in from high school who just won a state championship and hasn’t lost. It’s a bit of a shell shock.”
It’s no shock that Lynch-Crumrine and the rest of Braves have high expectations for the season, despite the results of the first weekend.
“Our goal is to win the Missouri Valley Championship, and move onto the post season. We want to see ourselves in the college world series,” she said.
Garth Shanklin is the Scout’s Sports Editor. You can follow him on Twitter @GarthShanklin.