While the Midwest got hammered with snow and freezing weather, the Braves softball team was starting its spring season in the warm Arizona weather last weekend.
Bradley left the five-team, round-robin tournament with one win and four losses against Nevada, Seattle, Boise State, Utah State and Northwestern.
The Braves dropped their first game to Nevada by a score of 7-6. Bradley trailed 3-0 early in the game until senior Alyson Clemente, who missed the entire 2015 season with an injury, blasted a two-run homer in the top of the third inning.
“The home run was my first hit of the season, and it felt pretty awesome,” Clemente said. “It was very surreal because I’ve waited a year to be back on the field. It wasn’t really nerve-racking or anything, it was more of just exciting. I was ready to play and be out there with my team.”
The Wolf Pack scored another run in the next inning, but Bradley tied it in the top of the sixth with a solo homer by senior Rachel Huggins and an RBI single by senior Kendall Duffy. The Braves pulled ahead by two runs in the next inning from a two-run double by senior Kathryn Spenn. However, they couldn’t close the game out, and the Wolf Pack scored three runs in the bottom half of the seventh to win the game.
The Braves ran into some good pitching during the next game against Seattle. Bradley fell 9-0 and was only able to produce one hit for the entire contest, a single by sophomore Taylor Morales in the third inning.
“They have a very good pitcher,” head coach Amy Hayes said. “She’s young, but she throws hard and has good movement and kept us off-balance.”
The Braves took their only victory of the weekend in the third game with a 4-2 victory over Boise State. The Broncos had a 2-1 lead going into the sixth before Clemente ripped a two-run triple to help the Braves pull ahead, her second clutch hit of the weekend. She later scored on a Boise State error and the Braves pulled ahead 4-2, which was the final. Junior Jaelen Hull started on the mound for the Braves and went five innings with six strikeouts, and freshman Megan Mahaffy pitched the last two scoreless innings and earned the win.
Bradley lost to Utah State in the next game by a score of 6-2. The Braves struck first in the opening inning with an RBI double by Huggins and again in the third inning with an RBI double by Clemente. The Aggies exploded in the next inning, scoring six runs fueled by a grand slam and never looked back.
In the final game of the tournament, the Braves fell to Northwestern 8-4. The Braves scored two in the first inning after back-to-back RBI doubles from sophomore Maria Schroeder and Huggins. The Wildcats plated three over the next two innings, but Schroeder once again put the Braves ahead with a two-run single in the top of the third. Northwestern scored four in the bottom half of the inning, however, and went on to win the game.
Hayes said her biggest concern from the weekend is the pitching mistakes. The Braves pitchers walked 17 and hit 11 batters over the five games.
“I think our pitching has to lock up a little bit,” Hayes said. “We just gave up too many free bags. If we eliminate the walks and hit batters, and I understand that we’ll have some with the way we pitch aggressively, but we’ll eliminate the stress on the defense and those runners wouldn’t have scored.”
Clemente offered positive thoughts about the weekend tournament.
“I’m happy about how we did on offense overall as a team,” Clemente said. “There’s still room for us to improve, myself included. I think we all know that we should have won a couple more games and I think we’ll come into this weekend more determined. We’re in good spirits.”
Next on the schedule for the Braves is the Phyllis Rafter Memorial in Kennesaw, Georgia, with games against Morehead State, Kennesaw State, Bowling Green and Rutgers.