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Walks hamper Braves in sweep

Senior Nathan Stong tossed 6 2/3 innings in last Friday’s game against Missouri State, allowing two earned runs.
photo by Justin Limoges

The Bradley baseball team rode a four-game win streak into last weekend’s series with Missouri State, but the men left Springfield, Missouri, with a three-game losing streak. The Braves were outscored 27-8 in the midst of the sweep, and the struggles were tied back to throwing strikes, which has plagued them all season long.

“We kind of beat ourselves,” junior pitcher Allan Beer said. “We have to execute our pitches and can’t walk in runs and give up free bases.”

The Braves kept game one of the series close thanks to 6 2/3 strong innings from senior Nate Stong, who held Missouri State to two earned runs on seven hits with two strikeouts. A Missouri State error tied the game in the eighth, and suddenly Bradley was on the brink of stealing a game from one of the country’s best teams.

Then, Missouri State’s Jake Burger blasted a walk-off homerun in the 11th off senior Eric Scheuermann, deflating the Braves’ momentum in the 5-3 loss.

Head coach Elvis Dominguez said the loss was a tough one to swallow, but it didn’t phase the team. In fact, Bradley started the next day off with a two-run lead, and Dominguez said he was excited with the way the Braves bounced back.

Everything changed in the fifth inning, though. Freshman Alex Gray, who left the inning with an ankle injury, and sophomore Mitch Janssen combined to allow 10 runs and effectively took Bradley out of the game.

“We just walked too many guys,” Dominguez said. “I don’t want to say I’m lost for answers, but at the same time, it’s how can we continue to make those mistakes and not be able to attack the strike zone. These guys are talented, they’re just not executing and getting the job done.”

Games two and three were lost by scores of 13-3 and 9-2, respectively. The culprit for such lopsided losses was the lack of pitching execution, especially with the leadoff batter of each inning.

“We just seem to walk the leadoff guy in every single crucial situation,” Dominguez said. “You can’t continue to do that. Leadoff walks score [often], so we have to be able to clean that up. If we clean that up, we’re a very good ballclub.”

The Braves are used to allowing bunches of runs this year, and the offense routinely has been able to match the opposition. Last weekend was different, however, as Missouri State stymied Bradley’s offensive attack.

“They are leading the conference in ERA, and they’ve always been a top pitching team in the country, so we knew we had our hands [full],” Dominguez said.

Bradley would have had a chance to rebound from the sweep Wednesday, but rainy conditions forced a cancellation. The men now have their sights set on Milwaukee, who they host all weekend at Dozer Park. Beer said he thinks the Braves have a good opportunity to get back on the winning side this weekend.

“It’s the same thing we hear from our coaches every day: if we execute our gameplan, we should be just fine,” Beer, who threw 5 1/3 scoreless innings over the weekend, said. “I think we’re better than them, so hopefully if we do our thing, we’re going to be OK. If we don’t, we’re going to struggle, so I think this will be a good test for us.”

The Braves kick off the three-game set with Milwaukee at 6 p.m. tonight.

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