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BRAKETTES OPEN ROAD TRIP AT BLOOMINGTON LADY HEARTS WEDNESDAY NIGHT

July 12 - Stratford Brakettes Manager John Stratton enters the team's six-day Midwest road trip to Illinois with high expectations, but with two key question marks. The Brakettes are off to a 29-2 mark as they prepare to face the Bloomington Lady Hearts at Championship Complex in Normal Wednesday at 8 p.m. (EDT).

Stratton has two starters whose status has not as yet been determined. Center fielder and leading hitter Val Suto (.540) sat out two of the last three games from illness. Although she will make the trip, Stratton is hopeful she will feel well enough to play.

“Val is such an integral part of our team,” said Stratton. “She sets the table with her slap-hitting style. It's like an automatic double every time she reaches base.” Suto leads the team with 19 stolen bases. All 47 of her hits have been singles.

The status of ace pitcher Brandice Balschmiter (10-0, 0.75 ERA) won't be known until Friday afternoon at the earliest. Injured during a fall two weeks ago, Balschmiter was originally diagnosed with a sprained left wrist. After re-visiting the doctor last Saturday, it appears as though she may have a hairline fracture of the arm, which could sideline her for the remainder of the year.

“I'm getting an MRI Thursday and I won't know the results until I get to Peoria Friday,” said Balschmiter, a 10-year Brakette with a 163-11 career record. She will miss the team's games Wednesday and Thursday (at East Peoria against the Lady Rage at 8 p.m.). “I'm hoping the MRI shows I'm okay to pitch during the weekend in the tournament,” said the 6-foot-2 Balschmiter.

The Brakettes will play the Pekin Lettes, who are celebrating their 80th year of women's fastpitch softball, Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Metamora High School in Metamora, IL. On Saturday and Sunday the Brakettes participate in the annual City of Pekin Championship at Mineral Springs Park. The last time the Brakettes played at Mineral Springs Park in 2003 they won the ASA National title.

Monroe's Tatum Buckley (9-1, 0.97 ERA) assumes the team's role of ace until Balschmiter's return. “Tatum has been outstanding for us this year. She's our No. 1-A and she can beat anybody,” added Stratton. Joining her will be Patti Sciglimpaglia (8-1, 1.64 ERA) of Norwalk. “Patti has helped us both on the mound and at the plate,” continued Stratton.

When the Brakettes return next Monday, their roster will be bolstered with the arrival of James Madison University pitcher Megan Good, who was a first team All-America this season. Megan is a strikeout pitcher who fashioned a 31-3 record. She also hit .303 and was second on the team with home runs and RBI. “She is one of the rising players in women's college softball and area fans will be surprised at how good she is. Megan just completed summer school and she can't wait to play,” said Stratton.

Buckley (.481), Patti Sciglimpaglia (.429), Sarah Bencivenga (.413) and Denise Denis (.405) are the other top sticks. Denis leads the team with 39 RBI while Buckley has 35 and Bencivenga 28.

The Brakettes return home to play the Connecticut Seahawks 23U team July 22 and participate in the pool play portion of the Brakettes Invitational July 23-24. They will not compete for the title July 24 since they are playing the Bridgeport Bluefish in the Battle of the Sexes III at 7:05 p.m. that evening at the Ballpark at Harbor Yard. Tickets for that exhibition will be on sale at all Brakettes home games for $8.