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‘Discipline and timing’ main culprits as softball falls to Southern Illinois

Bradley softball tries to make a play at first during a game against Murray State on March 26, 2023. Photo by Jenna Zeise.

In what was advertised as a pitching duel against one of the top teams in the Valley, Bradley softball (18-19) struggled against Southern Illinois (26-8) last weekend, taking the final game of the series at OSF Healthcare Field. 

One swing

It didn’t take long for Bradley to put their first run on the board as junior Bailey Sample, on her first swing, hit the ball to deep right field, bouncing off the scoreboard on its way out. 

“​​She has a really good focus on how she is going to execute and stick with that plan in terms of how we are going to beat certain pitchers and what pitches we are going to attack,” Braves’ head coach Sarah Willis said.

Despite taking the early advantage in the first, the Braves struggled to hit anything that Saluki pitcher Maddia Groff was throwing. Groff went seven innings allowing just one hit and striking out five Braves, contributing to her MVC-leading 130 strikeouts this season. 

“From one pitcher to another, keeping things simple in terms of the things that she does really well and until an offense is gonna make her make an adjustment, she just continues to execute,” Willis said.

In the second inning, Southern Illinois responded with a run of their own, as Bailey Caylor grounded out to first resulting in an Emma Austin run. With the game tied at one, the Salukis’ bats started to heat up as a sacrifice fly and a double by MVC-leading hitter Sydney Jones resulted in a 4-1 lead for Southern Illinois. 

“A lot of the game got away from us at that point and I think that’s where we put more inherent pressure on ourselves and at the plate and that’s where you start making defensive swings at the plate rather than strong offensive swings,” Willis said. 

Adding some late damage, a fielding error from the Braves and a double from Rylie Hamilton sentenced the game as the Salukis took the opener of the series. 

“Timing was not our friend”

The second game of the series saw Groff back in the circle for the Salukis, who kept the Braves quiet for five more innings. On offense, the Salukis continued to look alive.

Scoring three times in the first inning, the frame ended with a Baker home run that drove in two runs. Southern Illinois added three more to their tally in the third, fourth and sixth innings. In the sixth inning with bases loaded, Sample was hit by a pitch from Groff to bring in Bradley’s first run of the game. 

A single to left field from junior Sydney Kennedy drove in two more runs for the Braves, cutting the deficit in half. The Salukis added some insurance runs in the final inning to take the second game of the series.

“It was really our discipline with our timing, that’s the biggest thing,” Willis said. “To be able to put ourselves in an actual hitting position to not just defend the outside but start hitting it with some authority like I know we can. But again, timing was not our friend.”

Kennedy continues to climb

After Sunday morning thunderstorms pushed back the final game of the series, Bradley left with something to hang their hats on. Beating the Salukis 3-1, the win wasn’t the only thing the Braves were celebrating, as Kennedy reached the top-10 for strikeouts in a single season with her six K’s that day. 

“She really came back really sharp and made some adjustments on who we were gonna pitch to and she kept them at three hits,” Willis said. “So it was a great execution day for her and as Sydney Kennedy tends to go, we tend to go.”

Despite giving up a homer to the Salukis in the opening inning, Kennedy contributed on the offensive end as she doubled to left field, bringing in three Braves for the 3-1 victory. 

“[It’s] always disappointing to see when it takes you that long in so many looks off of one pitcher to make an adjustment like that, but it was good to see that we started having a little bit more discipline with the pitches that we were going after,” Willis said.

On deck

The Braves look to use what they learned against the Salukis and apply it to their next match against Northern Illinois. Hosting a Huskies side that lost their series against Ohio this weekend, NIU looks to get back to winning ways in tomorrow’s double header. 

“They put the ball in play, they put people in motion. If you’re sleeping, they’re gonna capitalize on it,” Willis said. “It’s gonna be a good way to sharpen up for a really strong Northern Iowa. In terms of seeing a competitive defense, making sure we’re executing on the small ball, making strong defensive plays to keep our bats in the game and to minimize the damage there.”

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