Tough schedule tests baseball team

Sophomore Luke Mangieri has led the Braves offense this year with a .384 batting average. photo via Scout Archives
Sophomore Luke Mangieri has led the Braves offense this year with a .384 batting average.
photo via Scout Archives

The Bradley baseball team hasn’t had it easy in its first month and a half. The Braves have played the 13th toughest schedule in the country to date, according to various college baseball sources, and the difficult competition has contributed to the team’s 6-12 record.

Digging a little deeper than the record, Bradley’s Rating Percentage Index (RPI) is 62. That means if the season ended today, the Braves would be receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, which is optimal for the Braves.

“I’m feeling good,” Dominguez said. “I think we’re right where we should be. Obviously we’d like to win a couple more games … we just have to somehow find a way to win.”

Unfortunately, wins have been a bit tough to come by lately. Bradley has dropped three of its last six games, including a 12-1 drubbing by Iowa on Wednesday. The Braves allowed all 12 runs in the first and third innings, and Dominguez said that is where the game was lost.

Freshman Ryan Hodgett started the game on the mound and only lasted one inning, allowing a pair of free base runners and a grand slam to set the tone for the game. Sophomore Matthew Richey relieved Hodgett but delivered similar results. Richey allowed six runs on two hits and four walks, which have plagued Bradley recently.

“We can’t throw strikes,” Dominguez said. “We put ourselves in a hole, and when they do get a hit, we ended up giving up a grand slam … you can’t continue to do that and have a chance [to win]. I think our guys are just pressing a little bit, but somehow, some way we have to attack the strike zone.”

Aside from the free passes, early runs have been a problem for the Braves. In each of its last three losses, Bradley has allowed four or more runs in the first three innings. Going down early in a ballgame takes a burden on the offense, Dominguez said, and is certainly not a recipe for success.

“We are just beating ourselves by putting on too many free runners,” Dominguez said. “It’s just a matter of guys being able to command the strike zone, and it’s tough to play from behind all the time. Even though we’re scoring a lot of runs and hitting the ball extremely well, we have to have better starting pitching.”

The offense, as Dominguez mentioned, has been operating like a well-oiled machine this season. The Braves are averaging just over six runs a game and have a team on-base percentage of .359. Dominguez said he is confident putting out any lineup of hitters, which is crucial as the conference season looms.

“Everybody is just producing, and we’ve been able to produce runs one through nine, and we’ve even had some guys who’ve come off the bench who’ve done well when given the opportunities,” Dominguez said. “It’s just a matter of [stopping] an opponent from scoring.”

Falling behind early in games has limited what the Braves can do offensively, Dominguez said. Once they solidify their starting pitching, Dominguez said he is confident the wins will start coming.

The key to fixing the pitching woes? Simple – throw strikes.

“Our strength of schedule isn’t easy,” Dominguez said. “If we can [throw strikes], we can climb the charts even faster than we have been.”

The Braves finally return home after 18-consecutive road games to start the season. The men host Robert Morris-Peoria at 6 p.m. tonight, Robert Morris-Springfield at 2 p.m. Saturday and Eureka College at 2 p.m. Sunday.