With just two weekends remaining until conference play, the Bradley softball team has sent strong signals that it can contend in a wide-open Missouri Valley Conference.
Picked to finish eighth in the preseason coaches’ poll, Bradley (7-6) enters this weekend’s Gaucho Classic with the second-best nonconference winning percentage of any Valley team. While preseason polls are seldom crystal balls, eighth was far too low for the Braves to be considered, given the talent on the roster.
Bradley lost four key seniors from last season’s squad that entered the MVC Tournament seeded fourth. That said, returning is a corps of offensive weapons that includes last season’s leader in hits, sophomore Lucy Mead, and each of its top-three home run hitters seniors Kealia Wysocki, Allison Apke and junior Stacia Seeton. Two righthanders, senior Emma Jackson and sophomore Grace French, can play key roles in the circle down the stretch.
Inconsistent play during the season’s first weekends has been an Achilles heel for Bradley thus far. A win against a ranked Arkansas team opened the season on Feb. 7, but since then, the Braves have yet to string more than two consecutive wins together.
Hitting has fluctuated from week-to-week, with the Braves batting .242 at the Troy Cox Classic, .333 at the Golden State Classic and .216 at last weekend’s Charleston Classic. Senior slap-hitter Sydney Young has had a nice start to the season, leading the team with 15 hits and a .429 batting average through 13 games.
Power has come in the form of three home runs from Seeton, though more power output from Apke and Wysocki would help the offense along. That said, Wysocki is hitting .350 and Apke is a good bet to get the bat moving as the season progresses.
The season started much the same way in the circle, but consistency has since come in grand fashion. In the six games since allowing 11 earned runs in a loss to San Jose State, the Braves have settled in nicely. Not including losses to Hawaii and Virginia Tech, the Braves have only allowed four earned runs and tossed two shutouts.
French’s 2.78 ERA leads the team, while freshman lefthander Morgan Radford has recovered from a shaky start to the season and recorded two saves.
If the Braves can pick up some momentum in the next two weekends before MVC play, they may have a real chance at making some noise. No power-five teams appear on the remaining nonconference schedule, which should foster a chance for the Braves to settle in nicely.
Those two weekends include two mid-major tournaments win seven different teams in Santa Barbara, California and Clarksville, Tennessee.
The Braves open MVC play at home versus Loyola on March 14, the first of two conference series are over spring break.