Bradley baseball starts season off strong

After a rough 2013 season, the Bradley Braves baseball team was looking for a fresh start in 2014.

So far, so good. In a Brave- on-Brave series, Bradley traveled to Mississippi last weekend and swept Alcorn State.

On Friday, the Braves rallied late for three runs in the top of the eighth to tie the game before crossing the plate five times in the tenth.

Coach Elvis Dominguez attrib- uted at least part of the win to the strong pitching out of the bullpen, something that evaded the team last year.

“It has to do with injuries,” he said. “A lot of those guys were hurt last year. Eric Scheuermann, David Koll and freshman Matt Dennis pitched really well. Having the healthy bodies really helped us.”

Dennis earned the win in the opener, pitching two scoreless innings and striking out a pair.

On Saturday and Sunday, the path to victory was a bit different. Bradley scored blowout wins

both days, downing Alcorn St. 13-4 and 12-4, respectively.

On Saturday, the Braves were paced by designated hitter Greg Partyka, who drove in five runs. Starting pitcher Stephen Toma gave up one run on four hits in six innings of work and picked up the win.

Sunday, Bradley used eight late runs to break open a close game. They scored four in the eighth and ninth inning, the latter of which sparked by a double from Chris Godinez.

Godinez was an All-American his freshman season with the Braves in 2012, but injuries forced him to miss 38 games last season. He’s back this year healthy, and Dominguez said he believes that is a key development for the offense this season.

“This year, for the first time in several years, we’re healthy,” he said. “We’ve got Chris Godinez back, and that alone makes our club better.”

It certainly made an impact on one Brave, at least. Freshman third baseman Spencer Gaa hit behind Godinez this weekend and knocked in a run with a single in his first career at-bat. For the week- end, he tallied six hits in 11 at-bats, scored six runs and walked five times. The performance wasn’t too much of a surprise to Dominguez.

“He’s definitely capable of it,” Dominguez said. “He’s got tre- mendous talent, he’s a very good athlete, and he’s bringing a lot to the table. Being surrounded by Max Murphy, Godinez and Partyka have allowed him to relax, he’s not carrying us.”

It’s not just during the games the senior leadership has benefited Gaa. There are numerous benefits to being among a group of experi- enced players.

“Watching everyone play, leading by example as seniors and having them help me try to fit in,” he said.

If the Bradley seniors find themselves lacking motivation at any point during the season, they could look toward the preseason Missouri Valley Conference poll for a boost. The team was picked to finish last, gathering just 11 votes in the poll. But Dominguez said he doesn’t see that as a moti- vation tool.

“I think those preseason polls and standings are based a lot on last year,” he said. “Our guys know we were better than that, but at the same time that’s where

we finished. It’s a long year, it’s a long season. You can’t just base it upon last year.”

Long season or not, the team is off to a pretty good start. The sweep and subsequent 3-0 start to the season is the best start for the Bradley baseball team since 1996, when the team started 7-0. The Braves face a tougher test this weekend, when the team heads down to Little Rock to take on the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans.

“This weekend is even tougher. We’re going up against a team that just swept Creighton in a series last weekend, so we have to be able to come out and execute,” Dominguez said.

Garth Shanklin is the Scout’s Sports Editor. You can follow him on Twitter @GarthShanklin