NORMAL — After 23 road games, the Illinois State softball team made itself at home Saturday with a home-opening and Missouri Valley Conference-opening doubleheader sweep of Bradley.
A sixth-inning stolen base put pinch-runner Kolby Hoffman in position to score a needed insurance run in ISU’s 3-2 win in the first game.
In the second game, Jordan Birch (6-1) fanned nine while Lauren Kellar added three hits to her four-hit day in a 3-1 win, which moved the Redbirds to 15-10 overall and 2-0 in the MVC ahead of today’s noon rematch with Bradley at Marian Kneer Stadium.
Megan Warner (6-4) earned the win in the first game, striking out five and walking one while scattering six hits.
ISU led 2-1 when Hoffman, a freshman from Dwight, ran for Sara Bradley, who had singled. Hoffman stole her first career base and scored when shortstop Alex Chandler dropped Nichelle Harrison’s line drive.
“I thought Kolby came in and did a great job getting a stolen base,” said ISU coach Melinda Fischer. “The kid can run and took advantage of a bobble.”
Bradley (7-20, 0-2) scored an unearned run in the first with help from two swinging bunts. ISU tied it in the second when Harrison, a redshirt freshman from Bloomington, singled home former Heartland College star Liz Andrews.
The Redbirds took a 3-1 lead the third when Andrews drove in Kellar, a sophomore from Colfax, who had singled and advanced on a double by Abby Olson.
Hoffman’s run gained importance in the seventh when Chandler reached on an infield hit and scored after two grounders sandwiched around a wild pitch.
A senior from Hartsburg, Olson added two hits in the second game including a first-inning RBI double with Kellar on. Olson would not have had a chance for her ninth double of the season if Bradley hadn’t allowed her pop foul to drop near first base.
“Anytime someone drops a ball in foul territory you always want to take advantage of that and it worked out in my favor,” said Olson, whose ninth straight game without a home run leaves her three shy of tying ISU’s career record.
Olson’s day included a diving catch in foul territory near third.
“She really just continues to impress me every time she gets on that field with her ability defensively,” Fischer said.
Kellar opened the third inning on second thanks to her infield hit and Chandler’s throwing error. Andrews’ single pushed Kellar home. Andrews later scored on a sacrifice fly by Caiti Kopp, a junior from Normal Community West.
ISU’s Kara Nelson, a fifth-round National Pro Fastpitch draft pick of the Chicago Bandits on Friday, notched her 44th career double in the sixth, leaving her four shy of the ISU career record.
Bradley avoided the shutout in the seventh when Julie Sherman singled in Chandler, who had reached on a bunt.
“We’ve played the toughest preseason that I think Bradley’s ever seen so our record hasn’t really phased us,” said Bradley coach Amy Hayes, who was impressed with Warner and Birch.
“They both threw great games against us. We made some adjustments at times and at times we didn’t.”