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Braves take one from UNI and Illinois State, inch closer to end of season

Bradley softball celebrates after beating Illinois State. Photo courtesy Bradley Athletics/Josh Schwam

The Bradley softball team had a busy week, playing six games in six days against the top two teams in the Missouri Valley Conference. After dropping two in a doubleheader to Illinois State last Thursday, they picked up a 1-0 win Tuesday against the rival Redbirds. 

Over the previous weekend, they beat second-place Northern Iowa in game one of the series before dropping the next two. Overall, the Braves went 2-4 to pull even at 17-17 on the season, good for fifth in the conference.

Sophomore Grace French commanded the circle in both wins, pitching two complete games. The Braves pitcher gave up four runs and eight hits between the two starts. She struck out 10 Redbirds in Tuesday’s 1-0 win alone.

“I was going with the game plan that Coach Hayes and I had talked about prior to the game,” French said. “I just really focused on executing my pitches and we knew if I stuck to the game plan and executed my pitches, I’d be successful.”

Not only did French execute in the circle, but each game featured a different Brave who excelled at the plate. Freshman Avry Blume doubled in a run in the first inning of the 6-3 win against UNI, while junior Jillian Navarro hit two home runs in the Sunday loss to UNI, driving in three runs. Junior Stacia Seeton also had two multi-hit games during the six-game span.

“We want to be peaking at the right time, and if we got five different kids doing it, then that’s a good sign,” head coach Amy Hayes said. “I think it’s also scary for a defense because you don’t know who you’re going to have to shut down that day.”

The Braves were held to just two hits in the Tuesday victory over Illinois State, but sophomore Camryn Monteer’s single in the bottom of the sixth scored Navarro and was ultimately the game-winning run. 

Bradley only took one game from Illinois State and UNI, but just a single win against each represents a bright spot entering the conference tournament. 

“The positive is we’ve taken games from everybody ahead of us except for Southern [Illinois],” Hayes said. “We can beat anybody in the conference. Putting ourselves in the best position going into the tournament is what we want to do, and it’s one and done there. You don’t have to win a series.”

The Braves travel to Evansville this weekend to face the Purple Aces, who are 8-12 in conference play, good for seventh in the standings. As the season starts to wind down and conference play draws nearer, both pitching and hitting need to come together and click for Bradley.

“I think we’re on a good path in terms of the team,” French said. “We’re on an upward trajectory in terms of how we’re playing together and how we’re executing things as a collective. I think as long as we continue that, we’ll be successful.”

The Braves and the Purple Aces begin their three-game series with a doubleheader on Saturday. First pitch is scheduled for noon.

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