Standing taller than just about everyone, save the basketball team, junior pitcher Jacob Booden is hard to miss no matter where you see him. But when he takes the mound and gets into his pitching motion, everything is in the right place.
Booden has started off the season with a fury of strikeouts and minuscule ERAs. His stellar performance so far this season has been a key to the Bradley baseball resurgence.
Last year, when the team wasn’t achieving the way they are now, Booden was still pitching at a high level. As the year wore on, he seemingly wore out.
“Last year I got into a groove,” Booden said. “When something went wrong, I didn’t stay mentally strong on the mound.”
Now that his season has started off strong, there had to be some sort of a letdown. While there have been some games not quite up to snuff with past performances, his level of consistency has reached a point where one doesn’t worry of him falling back to Earth.
“This year I plan on staying focused every pitch and throwing more strikes to get ahead of the batters,” Booden said. “Control was a big issue last year.”
Controlling a 6-foot-7-inch frame may not sound easy, but Booden wasn’t exactly where he was stature-wise when he first came to Bradley almost three years ago.
“Over the past three years, I have grown around three inches and it definitely helps,” Booden said. “It lets my release point get closer to the plate which gives the hitters less time to react to my pitches.”
But like the most well known vertically gifted pitchers of our era, Booden doesn’t just depend on God-given talent.
“Due to my growth, I have had to make some mechanical adjustments,” Booden said. “Every year there is always something to improve on with mechanics.”
This season, Booden and the Braves have become something of a barnstorming team. They spent most of the cold, harsh Illinois winter in Florida playing against any team they could. This road warrior mentality has helped the Braves take on big conference teams such as when Booden led the victory over Indiana University.
“Beating big conference teams definitely builds confidence for me for future starts,” Booden said. “I think that getting a win from the previous week does give me momentum and more confidence in my pitches, but I do not think about last week’s game when I am pitching in the next game.”
As Booden pointed out, the Braves aren’t playing the same team every week. While beating Indiana does look great on paper, it doesn’t automatically mean success in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Like Booden’s success at the beginning of last year, one can’t naturally assume success will automatically continue like it did at the beginning of the season.
It’s all about confidence and tunnel vision focus.
“I feel as though our team is confident against whoever we play,” Booden said. “We have a team that can compete against anyone and we have a good chance of doing big things in conference this year. “
Booden, two years into his career, has the tunnel vision any great veteran would have, and it’s the same kind of focus his team needs to take the next step to the top of the MVC.
“I will be able to keep our team in each game,” Booden said.
As long as the team adopts the subtle swagger of their pitching ace, the Braves will do just that.