The Missouri Valley Conference’s most lethal home run hitting team fell victim to the long ball Friday.
Wichita State, which owns a Valley-best 56 home runs, watched Bradley clear the Marian Kneer Stadium barrier for three solo home runs during the 4-2 Braves’ victory in the semifinals of the single elimination MVC softball tournament.
“They were a hot hitting team. They made a lot of solid contact,” WSU coach Kristi Bredbrenner said. “To me, we’re a better hitting team than we displayed today. I thought our pitchers did well enough to keep us in the game.”
No. 1 seed Wichita State (34-21) is unlikely to have its season extended by an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament. No. 4 Bradley (26-30) faces No. 7 Loyola in Saturday’s 2:37 p.m. championship game. Loyola won its third straight game, beating second seed Illinois State 4-2 in the other semifinal as MVC pitcher of the year Brittany Gardner threw her third straight comlete game.
Bradley took the lead in the second inning. Alex Chandler doubled off the wall. With the bases loaded and two outs, Brianne Joseph drew a walk to force in Chandler on a full count, a borderline offering from Shockers starter Kaitlyn Malone (16-7).
Wichita State seized a 2-1 edge in the fourth with two unearned runs. Cacy Williams’ two-out double to deep left field drove home Ashley Johnson and Kelli Spring.
But the Braves struck quickly and loudly in the fifth. Alyson Clemente, who hit a grand slam in Bradley’s quarterfinal win Thursday, waited on a Malone change up and sent it over the wall in right-center field. Marina Groenewegen then cracked a 1-1 pitch from Malone to nearly the identical spot for another homer and a 3-2 margin.
“I knew I had to stay in my own head and just drive the ball somewhere,” said Groenewegen, who landed another solo blast on the batting cage netting beyond left field in the seventh. “We had the fire. They were a team we competed with when we went there this year.”
After Malone hit Madeline Lynch-Crumrine with a pitch, Bredbrenner brought Sloan Anderson in from the bullpen. Anderson struck out three and allowed one run over the final three innings.
“We’re disappointed obviously,” Bredbenner said. “It hurts to lose right now because I know our team was good enough to win this tournament and compete in the postseason. The bottom line is we’re a young team, and I think our inexperience showed a little today. We’ll take this as a good experience and move forward because we’ve got a great team coming back next year.”
The Shockers put their first two runners on base in the seventh on a Williams single and a Bradley error. But Lynch-Crumrine set down the next three hitters on the fifth anniversary of the Braves’ only softball conference championship.
“We didn’t come out and swing as well as we hoped to,” Williams said. “But it was a great year, and hopefully we’ll be back here next year.”
Lynch-Crumrine (18-16) struck out three and walked two.
“I can’t say enough about Maddie. She was a lot smoother and more on point today than she was yesterday,” Bradley coach Amy Hayes said. “Wichita, that’s a demon for us. They had an amazing run. I have a lot of respect for their staff and team.”
|Bradley||010||020||1||—||4 9 3|
|Wichita St.||000||200||0||—||2 6 0|
W — Lynch-Crumrine. L — Malone (16-7). HR — Bradley: Clemente (6), Groenewegen 2 (8).
Williams, 2-4, Luellen 1-3, Fortner 0-3, Mason 0-3, Hitz 0-1, Broyles 0-4, Jaegers 1-3, Vandever 0-3, Johnson 2-3, Spring 0-3.
WSU pitching: Malone 4 IP-3 ER, Anderson 3-1.