The Bradley softball team dropped its first two games at home to Wichita State 7-5 and 10-1 last weekend, but game three of the series was capped off with a chance to make history.
Going into the top of the seventh inning, sophomore pitcher Julie Kestas hadn’t allowed any hits or walks against the best hitting team in the conference. She was three outs away from perfection.
“I knew she was in a groove, and I knew she was throwing well,” head coach Amy Hayes said. “I don’t think it was until about the fourth inning I looked up and saw no hits and saw she hadn’t walked anybody yet.”
Kestas had been pitching in the midst of a tight game the whole day. The Braves were clinging to a 1-0 lead, which came on an RBI-single from senior outfielder Caitlyn McCarron in the bottom of the third.
“Honestly, all that was going through my mind in the seventh inning was, ‘Get outs,’” Kestas said. “I knew I had the top of the order for Wichita coming up, so getting their lead-off batter out was going to be crucial. My thought process was to hit spots, feed my defense and get outs.”
Kestas continued to hit her spots and feed the defense as she got the first out on a groundball to the shortstop and the second out on a ground ball back to the circle.
With two down and one to go, Kestas had Wichita State’s Madison Perrigan in a 2-2 count, but Perrigan ripped the next pitch just past sophomore third baseman Stephanie Campos inside the left-field line for a single.
“After I gave up the two-out hit, in the moment, I tipped my hat to the batter,” Kestas said. “She was a really aggressive hitter who had been battling with me at the plate that day. I know Campos went all out to try and stop the ball, but it was definitely hit hard.
Although the perfect game was lost, Kestas retired the next batter on a fly ball to right field, and the Braves came away with the 1-0 victory. Since 2013, Wichita State has only been shut out four times in MVC play, three coming at the hands of the Braves. It was Kestas’ first complete game shutout of her career.
“Julie just brings this energy that makes it so much fun, and you can really tell when she’s in a groove,” freshman first baseman Allison Apke said. “She’s upbeat and positive, and she’s really fun to play behind when she’s in that groove, and she just did a really great job.”
Hayes said the great performance of Kestas on Sunday shows what her pitching staff is capable of.
“Julie’s growth from a freshman to a sophomore has been a major jump for her, and it’s not so much the physical ability, [but] it’s her ability to embrace herself as a good pitcher and know that she’s good enough to compete with anybody, any day,” Hayes said. “It’s a matter of getting after people early and just never doubting your ability and making good pitches. It shows what she can do, and I think it shows what a lot of our rotation can do.”
Bradley will travel to Northern Iowa this weekend for a three-game series against the Panthers. They will play a doubleheader beginning at noon today, followed by a third game 11 a.m. tomorrow.
“Northern Iowa’s pitchers are pretty good, but I think we can handle them as long as we bring our game,” Apke said. “It should be a good series.”