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Softball wins first series against Northern Iowa since 2015

Ashley Breeding after Bradley’s second win against Northern Illinois, Photo courtesy of Bradley Athletics

After keeping Northern Iowa scoreless for 12 innings, Bradley softball (21-21, 10-7 MVC) defeated the Panthers in two out of three games, taking their first series victory in nine years. 

“We did a pretty good job overall, being really consistent, keeping our focus on executing,” Braves head coach Sarah Willis said. “Up until the last day we also played a really solid defense.”

After splitting a midweek double header against Northern Illinois, the Braves dominated in the opener, narrowly escaped defeat in the second and fell in extra innings in the final game to round out a successful weekend.

Kennedy dominates the circle

Despite walking six Panthers (20-15, 8-5 MVC), junior Sydney Kennedy kept it clean in the circle as she registered her fourth double-digit strikeout performance this season. With her 10 punchouts in seven innings of work against Northern Iowa, Kennedy and the Braves were on track for a no-hitter until the sixth inning. 

The Braves struck first in the third, after sophomore Kierston McCoy took advantage of a Panthers fielding error from an overthrown ball to first base. Adding further damage in the fifth, junior Bailey Sample sent a ball to deep left field to give the Braves a 3-0 lead. Bringing home sophomore Lauren DeRolf, Sample registered her fifth home run this season, beating her mark of four homers last year.

Kennedy brought in the last two runs as she singled up the middle in the sixth, leaving the inning with a 6-0 advantage.

“It helps when the rest of your team’s hitting because hitting is contagious,” Kennedy said. “I was seeing a lot of outside pitches, which I really like to hit so they’re kind of throwing to my strengths too.” 

With an inning of work left, the Braves disposed of the first two Panthers easily; however, that changed very quickly. After a double, a walk and a single to shortstop, Kennedy was in her first bases loaded jam of the game. 

“I just want to go after the hitter because I like to think to myself, ‘Even if this hitter hits a grand slam, we will still be ahead and the chances of that are pretty low,’” Kennedy said.

With one out left and all the pressure to set up the weekend on the right foot, Kennedy took care of business as Northern Iowa’s Kate Lappe struck out swinging. 

Braves narrow escape

After striking first and taking a three-run lead into the sixth inning, the Braves took the series win thanks to an observant Bradley coaching staff and a coaching error from Northern Iowa. 

With Camryn Schaller in the circle, the senior kept the Panthers quiet for the first three innings, setting up the Braves for more offensive success. Taking advantage of wild pitches, junior Addie Welsh scored for the Braves’ first run, while Kennedy singled to left field to score DeRolf for an early 2-0 advantage heading into the fourth.

“Since Lauren’s [DeRolf] a lefty first, she talks to me and then she goes in the dugout and talks to the other lefties and Bailey [Sample] will do the same thing and we really communicate that down the line throughout the dugout,” Kennedy said. 

Northern Iowa responded immediately, loading the bases in the fourth inning. Despite the Panthers’ insistence to score, Schaller was able to neutralize the situation as Northern Iowa came up empty-handed. 

The Panthers eventually dealt some damage in the sixth, as Kennedy came in to relieve Schaller of her duties in the circle. Scoring two runs in that inning, the Panthers set themselves up nicely for a comeback victory in the final frame. 

However, after a pickle between home plate and third resulted in Northern Iowa’s second out, the umpires got together to discuss something that had been communicated by the Bradley coaching staff. 

“Right as that batter was getting in the buzzer, coach [Caitlin] Gambone said, ‘I don’t have a re-entry on this kid, you can’t stay quiet’,” Willis said. “Mistakes happen by coaches all the time. There’s a lot of maneuvers going on so that was a good catch by coach Caitlin.” 

It turned out that Northern Iowa head coach Ryan Jacobs did not reenter catcher Ava Smithson into the game, a similar situation to last season’s series. The umpires called the game in Bradley’s favor, and Northern Iowa’s rally was put to bed.

Panthers parting shot

Northern Iowa delivered the final blow of the weekend with an extra innings victory on Sunday, breaking the Braves’ hopes for another series sweep this season.

After coming into the fifth inning with a three-run lead, the Panthers put up four straight single-run innings to tie the game up in the seventh. After the Braves defense put out the first two outs of the seventh inning, the Panthers had one more opportunity to level the game and they did it with a triple and a single. 

The Panthers called game in the eighth inning as Smithson hit a dagger into center field that sailed past graduate student Tori Meyer, who lost her glove in an attempt to snatch the ball from sailing past the fence. 

“We mishandled some plays and extended some innings for them,” Willis said. “Overall, a real strong performance against the top part of the conference.”

Due up 

A battle against the Illinois State Redbirds is up next for the Braves, who will look to get some revenge after dropping the first two confrontations in Normal. 

“We already handed them one game, the doubleheader that we played a couple of weeks ago because we were winning that game prior to the seventh inning,” Willis said. “So really looking to come back and get that win, that’ll be an important win for us, especially with where we’re at in the standings with Illinois State.”

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