It is still the beginning of February, but signs of spring are all around us. Pitchers and catchers report in the MLB next week, the sun is shining just a little brighter, and the Bradley Braves softball team is readying itself for a run at the Missouri Valley Conference title.
“From day one in the fall, we set a goal of winning the MVC,” said junior Bailiegh Basham. “And I think that’s a very attainable goal.”
Basham, who broke Bradley team records in walks and on-base percentage in her sophomore season, has confidence in her team. She is interested in seeing the rapport the team has developed in the offseason translate onto the field this year.
“I’m most looking forward to seeing how our team dynamic that we’ve developed during practice translates into actual competition,” said the 2012 MVC All-Tournament selection. “I think we have a good balance of leadership and experience mixed with a few key newcomers. I think the new dynamic is going to be something really special when we start competing.”
That healthy mix of newcomers and established leaders should help the Braves take the next step towards an MVC championship. Last season, the team finished 21-31 with an 11-15 record in the conference, and in their only MVC Tournament game, the Braves lost to Missouri State 4-1.
The Braves are aided by the ability to use the Avanti’s Dome in Pekin, as playing outside on a diamond is not an option. While it is still not the same as playing outside, Basham said she and the team benefit from it.
“It’s not a perfect place to be,” Basham said. “But a lot of teams don’t even have that. At least in the dome we have a full field. We [usually] get over there about five times a week so we make it work.”
While defense is vital to the team, Basham said offense is the main focus during offseason training.
“In the offseason we try to focus on hitting,” Basham said. “[In the Avanti’s Dome] we can always get into the batting cage and improve our offense. Defense is going to be something we work on when we go out on the West Coast and play.”
Basham added that the Braves’ hitting coach tries to get the players to focus on patience.
“One of the key things our hitting coach projects is being patient and making the pitcher come to you,” said Basham. “The hitter is the one with the advantage. We’re the one with the bat in our hands and we can do some damage with that. But the pitcher has to work around hitters.”
Basham broke school records last season; yet, she is a true team player and never is that more evident when she deflects a question about her personal goals for the season.
“One of my goals is always to get on base,” Basham said. “If I get on base I make things happen, we score more runs and win. As far as personal goals go it’s hard for me to look at them when we don’t win. So this year [it’s] to help the team win.”
While Basham and her teammates might preach patience, fans of the team may find it hard to come by. They want to see the Braves in the MVC tournament and beyond, and while Basham believes in her team’s ability to win the tournament, playing beyond the MVC into the postseason will be a challenge.
“As far as postseason after the MVC goes I think we’ll have a good read on that after we get back from our spring trip on the West Coast where we play a lot of ranked teams but right now, I think that is still a very attainable goal,” she said.