The Bradley men’s baseball team isn’t supposed to be very good this year – at least that’s the perception from other Missouri Valley Conference coaches.
The Braves are projected to finish sixth in the conference, and head coach Elvis Dominguez is OK with that. He understands the doubters, but he doesn’t agree with them.
“Every year, we’re usually picked five or six [in the conference], which is fine,” Dominguez said. “That’s where I would’ve picked us if I were on the other side of the table, but I like our guys and the fact that they’re committed to winning.”
Bradley came within a game of playing for the conference championship last season, but the team lost quite a few players – through graduation and the draft – who helped them go that far. The Braves’ three main starting pitchers last season (Matt Dennis, Cameron Roegner and Brent Stong) all graduated, so they leave big holes to fill.
However, Dominguez said he is confident his weekend rotation of junior Allan Beer, sophomore Ben Olson and senior Eric Scheuermann will pick up where the old rotation left off.
“When we had guys like [Dennis, Roegner and Stong], we worked them into that role eventually,” Dominguez said. “Everyone wants to be a starter … little by little, we moved them up.”
Dominguez’s plan for grooming pitchers has been the same over the last few years: give young pitchers many middle-relief and occasional mid-week starts before transitioning them into a starting role.
That’s exactly what he’s doing with Beer, Olson and Scheuermann, and it’s why Dominguez said he is so confident. However, the middle and back end of the bullpen is where Dominguez is looking to find answers.
“If you want to talk about pitching, the question mark isn’t so much on the front end, but on the young guys coming in on the back end and middle,” Dominguez said. “That takes a little bit of time. So far, they’ve done a really good job, and [pitching coach Larry Scully] has done a phenomenal job coaching them up.”
The Braves lost a few key hitters as well, like Paul Solka and Tyler Leffler, but the Braves return with a plethora of dangerous hitters, including senior Evan Gruener, junior Ian Kristan and senior Spencer Gaa, who was selected for the preseason All-MVC team.
“Offensively, I think we have a chance to be very, very good, hopefully near the top of the league because these guys have so many at-bats under their belt,” Dominguez said.
The Braves open up their season today in Texas against Texas A&M Corpus Christi, beginning a challenging non-conference schedule featuring some of the best talent in the country, according to Dominguez.
“It’s not an easy schedule by any means,” Dominguez said. “If we can find a few wins and survive and play the kind of baseball we’ve been capable, we can very easily set ourselves up not only for the conference season but for an [NCAA] at-large bid.”
An at-large bid is one way to get to the NCAA tournament. Another is winning the conference tournament, and after recent success, Dominguez said he expects nothing less from the Braves than winning an MVC title.
“Our program has gotten to the point now where we play for championships,” Dominguez said. “We’ve gotten to the point where anything short of that is disappointing.”