Just as the Bradley softball team gained some footing in the Phyllis Memorial Invitational two weeks ago, it was all for naught as the Unconquered Invitational conquered the Braves last weekend.
Marking up only one win during the entire weekend against the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB), Bradley struggled in its next four games against Hofstra and No.13 Florida State.
The win against UAB was the Braves’ opening game of the invitational.
“They have been struggling, but we played well against UAB,” head coach Amy Hayes said. “Our hitters didn’t stop and put some runs on the board late.”
Hayes also pointed to junior pitcher Jaelen Hull, who pitched exceptionally well for the Braves. Hull gave up three runs early in the first inning, but only one more in the next six.
“She gave up three hits in the first inning … but didn’t give up but two the rest of the game,” Hayes said. “She really settled down and really made good pitches, and that kept us in the game.”
Hull held UAB at bay long enough for the Braves to explode in the sixth inning for nine runs, which began with senior Rachel Huggins’ three-run homer.
“Her first few years, [Huggins] was just a pinch hitter, so her mindset was always, ‘I’ve got one opportunity,’” Hayes said. “She learned that she couldn’t go up there and be anxious. She couldn’t go up there and be over swinging, she had to go up and do her job.”
Senior Alyson Clemente ended the barrage with a double, and Hull got the Blazers to go down in order to seal the win.
However, the win against UAB was the only victory the Braves would see in the Unconquered Invitational, as they lost twice to Hofstra 7-4 and 2-3 and to No. 13 Florida State 14-0 and 9-0.
The Braves would lose both games to Hofstra in similar fashion; they jumped ahead in both games, only to allow Hofstra to come back and steal both.
“We just didn’t quite hang on like I hoped we would,” Hayes said. “Hofstra is very similar to us right now. They’re hitting the ball fairly well, but they’ve been trying to find some consistency in the circle.”
In the first game against the Pride, Clemente hit a grand slam in the first inning to put the Braves up 4-2 early.
“We were down 2-0, Aly comes up there and hits a grand slam,” Hayes said. “People are getting on in front of her, which is the whole point.”
According to Clemente, when she had the bases loaded, Hayes gave her the green light to swing for the fences, because they knew of the opposing pitcher’s unpredictable tendencies.
“Going in, we knew that the pitcher was a little wild,” Clemente said. “[Hayes] told us, basically, if we see a good pitch to hit, take it, because we might not get another.”
Although the grand slam put the Braves ahead for the next two innings, the Pride tied the game in the third and took the lead in the sixth, which led to the 7-4 final score.
Clemente also hit her 16th career home run in the second game against Hofstra, a 3-2 loss, which tied the Bradley career home run record.
“I didn’t know I was that close to the record until a few weekends ago when someone told me,” Clemente said. “It’s a huge honor, and it’s a really cool thing to me knowing that there’s still a lot of season left to go.”
Although the Braves’ two games against Hofstra were close, the two games against Florida State were anything but.
The Seminoles blanked the women 14-0 in their first meeting and no-hit them in the second game 9-0.
“The way they hit, if we’re not on point in the circle, it’s not going to work.” Hayes said. “Honestly, they just silenced us. They’re a very, very solid program.”
Following the Unconquered Invitational, the Braves travel to Seattle, Washington, to play in the Husky Classic, where Hayes and her team will see some familiar faces.
The Classic includes games against Seattle and Boise State, whom Bradley played in the first weekend of its season.
Hayes said even though they’ll have a few rematches this weekend, the Braves aren’t the same team that took the field in the first weekend of the season.
“I don’t think we came out very strong in the circle our first weekend. We’re a completely different pitching staff right now,” Hayes said. “We’ve really grown a lot in a matter of three weeks. I think that, in turn, that gives your hitters a little bit of, not so much relaxation, but more, ‘All right, we’re all in it now.’”
Clemente said she believes the team is ready to take another shot at teams they’ve seen before.
“We’re coming into this weekend with a positive attitude,” Clemente said. “[We know] we’re going to get another look at teams we should’ve [beaten] and get to another team we beat before.”