The Missouri Valley Conference is a good baseball conference. The Valley currently ranks seventh in Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), just behind the Big Ten and ahead of more prominent conferences like the Big East.
Bradley’s baseball team has a lot to do with that ranking. The team’s 27-10 record entering last weekend’s play certainly backs up that claim, as does their national RPI rank of 21.
If there were still doubters, the Braves silenced them when they took two of three games at home against Evansville last weekend, thanks to stellar starting pitching and timely hitting.
Elliot Ashbeck turned in another solid performance in game one Friday night. Ashbeck went 7 2/3 innings while giving up two earned runs on eight hits and one walk. The junior also fanned six batters on the evening on his way to earning his eighth win of the year.
“Elliot Ashbeck on Friday was sharp and really gave our offense an opportunity to score,” head coach Elvis Dominguez said. “He was able to locate whenever he needed to, so he really kept them off-balance.”
Sophomore third baseman Spencer Gaa also had a typical Spencer Gaa game at the plate as he went 3-4 with three RBIs, all of which came in the last three innings. Those runs proved to be crucial in the 5-3 win in the series opener.
In game two, junior pitcher Steve Adkins backed up Ashbeck’s performance with an even better one.
“On Saturday, Steve Adkins was unhittable,” Dominguez said. “He went out there and dominated, and [he] really set the tone.”
Adkins, like Ashbeck, had all of his pitches working on the day en route to striking out 10 batters in his 6 2/3 innings of work. The righty yielded seven hits and two earned runs as he won his sixth game of the year.
The fireball-throwing right-hander has been electric in his last two outings, tossing 13 2/3 innings and only giving up two runs while striking out 19.
“My arm and my body have felt as good as they’ve felt all year the last three or four starts I’ve made,” Adkins said. “That makes a big difference for me, but the last two starts I’ve been able to get ahead of guys and keep them off balance with a good four to five pitch mix.”
Adkins’ brilliance on the mound was supplemented with quality hitting by the Braves. Junior catcher Drew Carlile bombed a home run in the sixth inning to break the game open as the Braves went on to win 8-4.
The Braves have been struggling with runners in scoring position, but as of late, that issue has seemingly disappeared.
“The hits are falling,” Dominguez said. “We’ve had a lot of opportunities throughout the year, and this past week we did a fantastic job of getting that clutch hit. It was Leffler on Wednesday, [Gaa] on Friday and Drew [Carlile] on Saturday.”
The men were going for the sweep on Sunday, but came out flat. The game started with an error by junior second baseman Chris Godinez, and it was downhill from there.
“It was a totally different day and night performance,” Dominguez said. “I was really disappointed in the fact that we came out the way we came out.”
The Braves were stymied in all facets of the game. They only earned two hits in the game, and starting pitcher junior Brent Stong did not fare well, only lasting 2 2 2/3 innings while giving up four earned runs on six hits. The Braves lost in seven innings 10-0.
Despite not getting the sweep this past weekend, Adkins said the Braves are still very confident going into the final few series of the season.
“We’ve been confident all year long, knowing we are a talented group,” Adkins said. “But actually seeing Valley wins in the standings is a nice feeling going forward.”