Quick, flash back to the year 2003.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the defending NFL champs, Jim Les was in his first year as the head coach of the Bradley men’s basketball team, and Bradley baseball knocked off nationally ranked Wichita State in consecutive games en route to winning a four game series.
That was also the last time Bradley baseball beat a ranked team in consecutive games, until this past week, when the team beat No.16 Dallas Baptist 11-6, and No.14 Iowa 5-4.
The team also defeated Northern Illinois 12-11 to build a three-game winning streak and boosting their Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), which currently stands at eighth in the country.
RPI is the rating system which ranks teams based on a multitude of factors.
“RPI is determined by half a point for your win-loss record against your competition,” head coach Elvis Dominguez said. “That varies just so slightly if it’s a home game or an away game. Twenty-five percent is from your opponent’s record and strength of schedule, and then the other 25 percent comes from your opponent’s opponents, record and strength of schedule.”
However, even with three consecutive wins, the Braves had to shake off a series loss against DBU. Bradley took a trip to Dallas to take on the Patriots, who hold the top spot in the RPI rankings over the Braves, and the 15th overall spot in the country.
“They are as good as advertised,” Dominguez said. “They are a tremendous club, and they’re number one in the RPI right now.”
Bradley lost the first two games of the series under the onslaught of the Patriots’ offense, losing 10-3 on Friday and 16-7 on Saturday.
Although the final game of the series was slated to be played on Sunday, it was moved to Saturday where the Braves won 11-6, finishing the three game series in a double header, while giving the Braves their first win over a ranked opponent since 2007.
Moving on from DBU, the Braves found themselves playing two midweek games, starting with No.14 ranked Iowa.
Dominguez started junior Cameron Roegner against Iowa and pulled him after the second inning even though Roegner did not give up a hit.
“We were going to go through six or seven [pitchers] regardless of the outcome,” Dominguez said. “[Roegner] was on a strict pitch count, just like they all were.”
After Roegner shut down the Hawkeye offense for the first two innings, senior Isaac Smith got the Braves offense going with a three-run homer in the second.
From there, however, the game got frustrating for Dominguez and the club as they wasted two bases loaded situations, stranding a total of 11 baserunners. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes were able to convert with runners in scoring position and took the lead in the sixth 4-3.
“For whatever reason, tonight we happened to put free base runners on for them,” Dominguez said. “It was great for our program to get a quality win, [but] I was disappointed that we left so many guys on base. We can’t do that against good quality teams.”
Bradley finally shook a five-inning freeze to score two runs in the seventh. The Braves tied the Hawkeyes on catcher Drew Carlile’s single, and took the lead on shortstop Tyler Leffler’s double, which plated Carlile.
“I was seeing the ball really well,” Leffler said. “I knew I had the chance to come through for my team, and [I] just felt good about it and went in and hit the ball hard.”
Dominguez said both teams started out sluggish, but the Braves broke out of their slump when it mattered most.
“If you put enough guys in those kinds of situations, our guys are good enough that they’re going to come through,” Dominguez said. “Their guys helped us out [with] a couple walks and so on, but at the same time, I was really, really happy with our guys and their clutch hitting.”
While fighting off Iowa in the final innings, the Braves also had to battle unfavorable calls from the game’s umpires.
In the sixth inning, center fielder Isaac Smith was hit in the temple by a pitch. However, the umpire ruled the ball hit Smith’s bat, resulting in a dead ball strike that sent Smith back to the plate.
During that discussion, first base coach Mike Darley got ejected after confronting the umpires, and the inning before that, pitching coach Larry Scully got ejected for arguing balls and strikes.
Dominguez and Leffler refused to comment on the game’s umpires.
The next day, Bradley traveled to Dekalb to take on Northern Illinois (NIU), in which the Braves used a similar pitching rotation that limited each pitcher to a specific pitch count.
“These are guys that didn’t throw a lot on the weekend,” Dominguez said. “We have at least five guys that need to throw before going into Wichita.”
Leffler said the pitchers that throw midweek are dependent on the team they have behind him.
“It’s going to start on the mound,” Leffler said. “These midweek games are going to be a team effort. You’ve got to throw a lot of guys out there and it’s just trying to get to the next guy on the mound.”
The contest against NIU was back and forth, featuring five lead changes in an eventual 12-11 Bradley victory.
Sophomore closer Matt Dennis pitched out of a bases loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth to earn the save, and preserve the win for the Braves.
“We’re playing really well right now,” Leffler said. “Still looking for a complete game with put together pitching, hitting and defense, but I like where things are headed.”
Tonight, Missouri Valley Conference power Wichita State visits Dozer Park for the first of a three-game series, which will also continue into Saturday and finish on Sunday.