Despite falling behind early in each of its three games against Indiana State last weekend, Bradley softball swept the series and catapulted to third place in the Missouri Valley Conference standings.
The Braves took the first game of the series 8-6 in a back-and-fourth battle. The game was delayed three hours and was played on damp turf Saturday afternoon. After Indiana State struck first in the second inning, the lead changed hands three times in two innings before Bradley took control.
Sophomore third baseman Taise Thompson slugged two home runs, including a go-ahead two-run shot in the third inning. Sophomore outfielder Jillian Navarro’s two-run single in the fifth put the Braves ahead for good.
Senior right-handed pitcher Megan Mahaffy (8-4) went the distance in the circle, allowing five earned runs on eight hits, while striking out six.
In the first game of a senior day doubleheader on Sunday, the Braves found themselves down 7-2 in the fifth inning, before rallying for an 8-7 victory.
Sophomore right fielder Stacia Seeton started the comeback with a two-run homer in the fifth, her second longball of the day.
In the sixth, senior center fielder Gabby Stoner started things off with a leadoff triple, and then scored on a triple by freshman shortstop Lucy Mead later in the inning. Junior first baseman Allison Apke then singled to score Mead pulling the Braves within one. Thompson later singled and freshman utility player Carly Chovanec, who pinch ran for Apke, scored all the way from first following a wild throw.
Junior designated player Kealia Wysocki completed the Bradley comeback with a two-out double to score Thompson.
“I don’t think they were ever worried,” Bradley head coach Amy Hayes said of the comeback. “We don’t ever want to put ourselves in that position, but it’s also a good confidence booster to know that when you really put your mind to it you can start playing the ball you were meant to play.”
Despite giving up six runs in the first four innings, senior right-handed pitcher Julie Kestas (7-3) pitched a complete game for the Braves, striking out six. She shut down the Sycamores in the final two innings to earn the victory.
After Indiana State grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second inning, Bradley seized control on a Wysocki solo-shot to tie the game in the fourth, followed by an Apke grand slam in the fifth to make it 5-1.
The Sycamores responded with a single run in the sixth, but the Braves scored five runs in the bottom half of the frame to run-rule them 10-2.
Junior right-handed pitcher Emma Jackson (5-5) pitched all six innings, allowing seven hits and no walks on her way to her fifth victory of the season.
Wysocki was named MVC Player of the Week for the second time this season on Monday. The catcher/designated player hit .500 with eight extra base hits, including two homers. She said that she’s locked in from the moment the first pitch is thrown.
“The key to what I am doing right now is staying engaged,” Wysocki said. “ [I’m] watching my teammates and their at bats, looking at what they get and knowing what pitch I want.”
Wysocki is currently batting .375 and has 12 home runs for the Braves, doubling her home run total from last season.
“She’s been able to make some adjustments at the plate, which are important [because] people are looking at her numbers and they’re going to try to come at her differently,” Hayes said. “As long as she keeps trusting that process, she’s having a great year, and I’m sure she’ll finish strong,”
The series sweep puts Bradley just two games behind second place Southern Illinois. The Braves could take over sole-possession of second place with a series sweep versus the Salukis this weekend in Carbondale.
The matchup pits two Evansville alumna’s teams against each other, as SIU head coach Kerri Blaylock (’88) and Hayes (’92) both played softball for the Aces.
“It’s kinda cool that we have that tie, and I have great respect for her and their program,” Hayes said, “But … we’re going there to move up in the standings.”
Hayes has her team understanding the importance of moving up in the standings before they host the MVC Softball Championship in Peoria May 8-11.
“It is crazy and it is awesome to sit third right now,” Wysocki said. “We are working hard and staying disciplined this week [because] we know what we want to do and we are determined to get it.”
The series will begin with a doubleheader on Saturday, followed by the 11 a.m. finale Sunday.