Saluki fans at Charlotte West Stadium cheered with excitement Thursday after junior outfielder Michelle Bradley’s home run in the bottom of the sixth inning gave SIU a 3-2 win in game one of the Missouri Valley Conference Championships against Creighton University.
Despite nerves at the game’s start, Bradley said it was good the Salukis settled down and won the game against the team that eliminated them in last year’s MVC Championships.
“My first at-bat, I was not on time, and the pitcher was slower than what I was anticipating,” Bradley said. “My second at-bat (associate head coach), Jen (Sewell) said, ‘Get on time and make sure you’re at least seeing the ball.’ Seeing the ball deep was my goal, and my second at-bat was much better.”
Bradley, who is from Land O’ Lakes, Fla., said knowing her family and friends were present — especially her dad, who she said she doesn’t get to see often — was the key to having a good performance all around.
“It feels amazing to play in front of my dad, and I can’t even talk about him without getting emotional because I never see him really,” Bradley said with a couple tears rolling down her cheek. “This is huge for me.”
SIU and Creighton remained scoreless until the bottom of the fourth inning, when sophomore infielder Jayna Spivey’s base hit brought in freshman pinch runner Kara Kimball for a 1-0 lead. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth, sophomore catcher Allie VadeBoncouer hit a fly ball for SIU’s second out, but that didn’t stop sophomore third baseman Kelsea Ashton from scoring to give the Salukis a 2-0 lead.
The Bluejays responded with a two-run homer from sophomore Alexis Cantu to tie the game at two runs apiece in the top of the sixth.
Coach Kerri Blaylock said Bradley showcased her glove defensively after a leaping catch to give the Bluejays their final out of that inning, and her offense was a sense of relief after she hit a home run to break the tie and take a 3-2 lead.
After Bradley’s home run, freshman pitcher Katie Bertelsen’s close-out performance in the top of the seventh helped solidify the Salukis’ win.
Bertelsen said she knew she had a job to do, and she couldn’t let her team down.
“I just wanted to finish the game off,” Bertelsen said. “I don’t want it to end for our seniors, and I just want to keep going for them. I just want to finish strong.”
Blaylock said Bertelsen set the tone for the team. She said despite the teams’ struggles offensively, defense both on the mound and in the field kept the Salukis alive in the tournament.
Blaylock said the win against Creighton has somewhat boosted the team’s confidence and calmed its nerves. She said the team will go into tomorrow’s game against Northern Iowa with a lot more momentum.
The Salukis continue action today at noon against No. 1 Northern Iowa University at Charlotte West Stadium.