Bradley Sweeps Bears to Open Final Weekend of Season
PEORIA, Ill. -- A surging Bradley offense broke out of a season-long slump at an inopportune time for the Missouri State Bears Saturday afternoon, as the Braves claimed victories of 5-3 and 6-1 to post a doubleheader sweep at Laura Bradley Park. Janay Mitchell went 6-for-7 on the day and Jacqueline Vitale drove in four runs to lead the rejuvenated BU attack, while Ashley Birdsong registered a pair of complete-game victories.
The Braves, who entered the series with a Missouri Valley Conference-low .217 team batting average, pounded out 19 hits on the afternoon to improve to 20-26 overall and 11-12 in conference play. The two setbacks dropped MSU to 19-23 overall and 8-11 in MVC play, leaving the Bears in need of a victory in Sunday’s series finale or a loss by either Indiana State or Wichita State in order to wrap up a spot in next week’s conference tournament.
Bradley jumped on top early both contests, scoring the first three runs of game one and the first five tallies of the second contest. The Braves wasted little time in getting their offense in gear in the opener, striking for three runs on four hits in the bottom of the first inning. Lindsay Watkins teamed up with Mitchell to spark the rally with a pair of base hits off MSU right-hander Lauren McGinley to start the inning, and Vitale chased them home with a two-out single to center. BU wasn’t done, as Amanda Clack followed with a soft liner to center that fell in for an RBI-single to push the Braves’ lead to 3-0.
Missouri State used the long ball to climb back into the contest, getting a solo shot from Jen Carr in the top of the second, then a two-run blast from senior shortstop Jessie Smith in the fourth to even the score. For Smith, her 27th career homer as a Bear pulled her even with Kate Madden in the top spot on MSU career runs scored list with 123. It also moved her into a tie with Creighton’s T.J. Eadus for the 12th-highest individual career home run total in Valley history.
But Bradley was able to push home two runs on an Alycia Bachkora squeeze bunt in the bottom of the fifth. Watkins and Mitchell were once again the catalysts, coming through with back-to-back singles with one out, before McGinley (10-11) threw wildly to first on Bachkora’s sacrifice attempt, allowing both baserunners to score.
Mitchell was a perfect 3-for-3 with a pair of runs scored for BU, while Birdsong struck out six Bears and allowed three runs on seven hits to earn the win.
BU jumped on top early once again in the nightcap, getting a two-out, RBI-single from Mitchell in the bottom of the second to grab a 1-0 lead.
Vitale gave Birdsong some breathing room the following inning, belting her fourth home run of the season-a two-run shot-to make it a 3-0 contest. Bachkora would follow suit in the fourth, drilling a Lauren Supak (5-8) offering over the left field fence for a two-run homer to break the game wide open.
Birdsong took it from there, holding the Bears to one run on six hits in another complete-game effort to improve to 14-10 on the season.
Smith paced the MSU offense, going 3-for-6 on the day with a double and a single in addition to her home run.
The Bears and Braves will conclude their three-game series Sunday with a Noon contest at Laura Bradley Park.