After the program’s most successful season in 15 years, and a contract extension for head coach Amy Hayes, Bradley softball is working towards maintaining success.
The Braves’ winning ways have carried over from the spring to fall, as the team is 4-0 in fall ball play, including a victory over Big 10 member school Northwestern.
“That was a big win for our program,” Hayes said. “They’re a quality program, they’ve got some good pitching, and they hit. They’re one of the top [programs] in the Big Ten, so it was nice to get that W up there.”
Despite the winning record, the fall season focuses heavily on development, rather than wins, losses and statistics.
“Our goal is to win, but [fall ball] is a free-for-all,” Hayes said. “You’re just trying to see what people can do.”
Other than Northwestern, the team has played Illinois-Springfield, Parkland and Heartland, but has had a number of games cancelled due to weather. Despite the small sample size of games, Hayes has been pleased with her team’s play.
“We’re hitting the ball and our returners are on track,” Hayes said. “I think the thing I’ve been most impressed with this fall has been our defense, we’ve had a lot of nice defensive plays, so that’s good to see this early.”
The fall season provides the opportunity for teams to sharpen up after the summer, and gives coaches a feel for players’ talents, especially the newcomers.
This year, Hayes brings in a recruiting class of five: left-handed pitcher Morgan Radford, catcher/utility players Bella Mauries, Avry Blume and Abigail Taylor, and outfielder Olivia Bradley.
“It wasn’t a conscious effort to have three [catchers],” Hayes said about the recruiting depth behind the plate. “It’s huge for bullpens, so I’m not having to pull an outfielder in and have them catch. I’m letting catchers actually work on their craft and with our staff.”
Following the graduation of senior right-handed starting pitchers Julie Kestas and Megan Mahaffy, the fall schedule provides a transition period for new leadership on the pitching staff.
“We’re gonna miss the energy that they both brought, but Emma [Jackson] has done a great job this fall, and is embracing that leadership role in the circle, that matriarch as that one senior pitcher,” Hayes said.
In addition to Jackson, junior Taise Thompson and sophomore Grace French return to the staff, complemented by the addition of Radford.
After 29 wins and a trip to the MVC semifinals last season, the program culture has taken strides in the winning direction.
“At the end of the day, I can’t coach effort. If you don’t want to get better, then that’s on you,” Hayes said. “I think that has been the change in our program. We kind of started to go out and look for a little bit different characteristics in some kids.”
Last year’s freshman class is a prime example.
“That freshmen class last year shot a lot of life into us,” Hayes said. “It’s nice to see the last few years we’re stepping right back up the ladder, which is where we want to be.”
The Braves will look to keep climbing as they wrap up their fall season with a doubleheader versus Illinois Central College and Southeastern Community College tomorrow at home.
Bradley opens regular season play on Feb. 7 at the New Mexico State Invitational.