Softball timbers Sycamores in first Valley series

The softball team’s nonconference schedule did not fare well. The women faced formidable opponents throughout the last month and a half, and their 5-15 record during that span reflects their struggles.

A new season dawned on the softball team last weekend as it began Missouri Valley Conference play against Indiana State. The familiar competition was a needed change of pace for the struggling Braves as they took home two wins from the Sycamores while scoring more than 41 runs over the weekend.

“When you come into preseason, you’re trying to work on getting your team ready to play five different teams [in one weekend],” head coach Amy Hayes said. “Right now we’re able to just focus on one team at a time. We know these teams better than we know anyone in the preseason, so our focus can get more narrow.”

The Braves fell to the Sycamores during game one in dramatic fashion. Bradley trailed Indiana State 10-1 in the second inning and would eventually yield 13 runs in the first seven innings. The women didn’t go down easily, and managed to pick away at the lead until they tied it at 13 in the seventh.

However, the Braves couldn’t complete the miraculous comeback, however, as Indiana State plated the winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning.

“We didn’t play defense,” Hayes said. “We made more errors in that game than we probably had in two weeks. It was a horrendous defensive performance.”

The Braves committed seven errors in the loss, most of which came in the opening innings. The game was “an eye opener,” according to Hayes.

“We knew after the first game there were some things we really needed to tighten up on defense,” sophomore right fielder Taylor Willhalm said. “The second two games we really focused in. Our pitchers stepped it up, and we were able to play better defense and get those two wins.”

The ugly loss to open the series wasn’t enough to quiet the Bradley bats, as the women trounced Indiana State 16-4 and 12-4 in the final two games of the series to give the team a 2-1 record to open their conference season.

The Braves tormented an inexperienced Sycamore pitching staff for 40 hits on the weekend, and the punishment was dealt by the entire lineup.

“To put up the numbers we did, I’d have to venture to say that we were pretty locked in,” Hayes said. “Even on Sunday, [Indiana State] did a better job with the top of our order, but then the bottom half was just pretty darn good going 12-16.”

While the offense was firing on all cylinders last weekend, the pitching shouldn’t be overlooked. Freshman pitcher Julie Kestas fired a complete game in game two and even contributed three innings of work in the rubber match Sunday.

Equally as impressive was freshman Dani Cowan, who hurled 6.1 innings in game one in relief of pitcher Jaelen Hull. Hayes lauded the freshman’s effort, calling her “phenomenal.”

“She hasn’t pitched a whole lot of innings up to this point,” Hayes said. “[She] didn’t really have her best stuff, but made pitches when she needed to make them and really gave us an opportunity to get us back into that game.”

Moving forward, Willhalm said the goal is clear for the women.

“We all know our goal, and our goal is to win the conference,” Willhalm said. “We want to go to regionals. Every game from here on out matters … so to win this series was huge for us.”

To reach that goal and continue the ferocity at the plate, Hayes said she wants to “keep it real” with the team.

“There’s always a challenge,” Hayes said. “One of the simple things I sent out to them yesterday was to ‘never quit, never let up and not get complacent’, because complacency will kill a team.”