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Braves leave Sycamores with a hollow feeling

The Bradley baseball team played host to Indiana State this past weekend at Dozer Park, winning two of three games against the Sycamores and improving their conference record to 4-2.

In the Friday opener, junior lefthander Cole Cook was in the driver’s seat the whole way, surrendering only four hits and one earned run over eight strong innings.

While Cook led the way on the mound, sophomore left fielder Dan Bolt sparked the offense for the Braves. After loading the bases in the bottom of the sixth, Bolt stepped up and delivered a bases-clearing double to left center, extending the Bradley lead 4-0. Bolt also doubled in bottom of the eighth, giving him four RBIs on the day.

“I knew with runners in scoring position he wasn’t going to give me my pitch. I had to hit his pitch,” Bolt said. “I trusted myself and my ability and was just happy to get the job done for the team, and put ourselves in a position to win a ball game.”

Braves’ closer Boby Johnson came on in the ninth with a 6-1 lead, but was greeted by three consecutive triples by the Sycamores. He then settled down to retire the last three batters and preserve a 6-3 Bradley win.

On Saturday, the script was flipped. Indiana State starting pitcher Triston Polley held the Braves in check for only four hits and three runs over six and two thirds innings. He had a big boost from his offense as they knocked around Bradley’s junior right-hander Sam Lund for seven combined runs in the second and third innings, including a three-run home run by Dane Giesler.

“It was a fastball that they hit, and it was supposed to be away. I missed my spot, so he took advantage of a bad pitch,” Lund said. “Even if I made a good pitch, they were good at making adjustments and putting the ball in play.”

Bradley made a bit of noise in the seventh, scoring two runs on a sacrifice fly from freshman Keaton Rice and an RBI double by sophomore Luke Shadid. Their effort chased Polley from the game, but the Sycamores took the second game 9-3.

“Polley was really good. I mean, we’re a good offensive ball club, but he just dominated us, and that’s just the game of baseball,” Bradley Head Coach Elvis Dominguez said. “It all starts with the guy on the mound, and their guy was better than ours.”

Sunday afternoon’s finale saw short outings from both starting pitchers. After Bradley starter Ryan Hodgett was roughed up for five runs in the first three innings, senior righty Alex Gray picked up the slack with six innings of one-hit relief.

Down 6-4 going into the bottom of the eighth, junior first-baseman Luke Mangieri tied the game at six with a two-run single. Setting up an Andrew Ivelia sacrifice fly gave the Braves a one run cushion heading into the ninth.

Gray shut down the Sycamores again in the ninth, pushing his season record to 5-0, and the Braves to a second consecutive series win to begin Missouri Valley Conference play.

“When we took the lead, [Pitching Coach Larry Scully] asked me if I wanted to take the ninth inning and of course I told him yes,” Gray said. “Between adrenaline and wanting to win the series, I felt good enough to get three outs at the end of the game there.”

Bradley was supposed to host Iowa on Tuesday night in the second half of a home-and-home series, but it was postponed to the recent cold spell. Instead, they headed down to St. Louis Wednesday to play the Billikens of SLU.

The Billikens managed three runs in the sixth inning, coming off a pair of walks, and the Braves were unable to come back, falling 3-2 in the mid-week non-conference matchup.

Bradley will try to continue their success in the conference as they travel to this weekend’s series against Evansville. The first game of the series begins at 6 p.m. tonight at Braun Stadium.

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