Returning all but four players from last year’s squad, Bradley softball hopes team chemistry will help propel them to competing for this year’s Missouri Valley Conference title.
The Braves were picked eighth in the MVC coaches poll released last week. Last spring, the team finished with a 20-30 record.
“I think as seniors we’ve talked about how this year feels very different from other years,” senior pitcher and outfielder Megan Mahaffy said. “It feels very cohesive. We got 19 people on the team that are all in it for the same reasons.”
Head coach Amy Hayes said that focusing from the first workout will lead to a successful season.
“Last year, we were all bunched up in the conference race, and I think it’s going to be fairly similar,” Hayes said. “They can put us eighth, that’s not where I see us, but it’s up to us to take care of business so we’re not there.”
One of the keys to the Braves’ success this season will be its pitching staff, all of whom are returning from last season. The staff includes Mahaffy, sophomore Taise Thompson, junior Emma Jackson and senior Julie Kestas. They posted a combined 4.87 earned run average last season.
“We have a lot of seasoned veterans in the circle,” Mahaffy said. “Our staff all throws a little different and we’re all going to complement each other well.”
Another key piece that returns for Bradley is junior infielder Allison Apke, who led the team in RBIs and recorded a school record .699 slugging percentage. She was named to the preseason All-MVC team for the second consecutive season after leading the conference in home runs in the 2018 campaign.
“She’s able to come and be very consistent for us day in and day out,” Hayes said. “She’s got a very level head, she holds down first base well for us, and sitting at three or four in the lineup she’s really steady. She’s really tough to beat.”
The program added six freshmen to the roster this offseason, four hailing from the west coast and two from Illinois. The class features Grace French, Camryn Monteer, Samantha Smith, Carly Chovanec and Keeler van Breusegen. All have been praised by teammates and coaches alike.
“At some point we don’t even see them as freshmen anymore” senior Katie Habryle said. “They’ve already done a great job meshing with the team. They’re going to find a lot of success on the field.”
“They’ve all come in and are really competing for positions,” Hayes said “They’ve been pushing the upperclassmen in a good way. Those six are strong athletically, they are strong competitively, and they’re good people. It’s been a nice boost for everyone.”
The team starts its 2019 campaign in Tempe, Arizona today. They play five games including No. 25 Oregon. The first pitch is today against Stanford at 10 a.m.