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Baseball battles Western Kentucky, loses series

Michael Mylott swings against Western Kentucky, Photo Courtesy of Bradley Athletics

Bradley baseball opened their season against Western Kentucky this past weekend, hoping to leave Bowling Green with a winning record to start their campaign.

The Braves (1-2) started off on the right foot, beating the Hilltoppers in the first game of the series, 5-2. They ended up dropping the final two games in the series, which were played as a doubleheader on Sunday due to unfavorable weather the day prior.

Braves start off year in win column

“Somebody is going to win [and] somebody is going to lose,” head coach Elvis Dominguez said. “We played a really well, complete game on Friday. [Friday was] a clean game, pitched well, timely hitting, great defense. [Western Kentucky] made a couple of key errors and certain situations gave us the game.”

The first game featured a hot start from the Braves. After senior Ryan Vogel singled to right field and senior Jackson Chatterton reached base on an error, the Hilltoppers then made a wild pitch which moved both runners into scoring position. Junior Timmy O’Brien then hit a sacrifice fly that gave the Braves the early 1-0 lead.

“That was a big start,” O’Brien said. “Getting that run in was big. That kind of fed momentum for us and kind of get guys going to start the year, that was big. Our bats kind of started after that and kept going the whole game.”

Right-hander Noah Edders got the nod on the bump for Bradley. The redshirt sophomore threw seven innings, allowing six hits and an earned run along with three strikeouts.

Edders was not scheduled to start Friday’s game, but due to injury he had to step up, and coach Dominguez could not have been more impressed with his performance.

“It was outstanding, it was electric,” Dominguez said. “He kept them off balance the whole game. He got thrown into that role because [Jacob] Kisting is injured right now. Noah was supposed to pitch on Saturday, but we threw him into the Friday role and he took it on like a champ and did an exceptional job.”

The seventh inning was a pivotal moment in the ball game for the Braves. Chatterton ripped a double to left field off of a 3-2 count, scoring both sophomore Easton Harris and junior Tyrese Johnson to make it 4-1 Braves. 

Timmy O’Brien laced a double to right field to score Chatterton, capping off an explosive three-run seventh from Bradley and giving them a 5-1 lead.

“It was just a lot of guys doing their jobs,” O’Brien said. “At bats, getting runners over, getting runners and just wearing their pitchers down. We had a lot of good at bats, saw a lot of pitches and that brought success.”

The ball was handed to junior Anthony Potthoff in the ninth inning, and he converted his first save of the season. 

“Getting that first one is kind of like ‘okay, get that one out of the way,’” Dominguez said.

“It was a big start for us,” O’Brien added. “That kind of showed this group what we can do and what we are capable of. We have got a lot of young guys, a lot of unproven guys, so I think that was really big for our team and really a good start. We just kind of started off on the right foot for the season.”

The Bradley baseball teams celebrates as Jackson Chatteron returns to the dugout. Photo courtesy of Bradley Athletics.

Bradley drops first of two on Sunday

Rain showers ruled out the scheduled game on Saturday and turned Sunday into a doubleheader for the Braves.

Bradley was prepared to play on Saturday, but also knew that unfavorable weather would likely move two games to Sunday.

“We were prepared to play on Saturday,” O’Brien said. “We also were prepared to play on Sunday for sure. [Playing two games on Sunday] has a different vibe to it for sure.”

The first of the twin bill was only seven innings long and featured a Bradley offense that got shutout. The Braves had two hits and nine strikeouts en route to a 0-5 loss to the Hilltoppers.

“They did pretty good,” O’Brien said of the Western Kentucky pitching staff. “We had guys on, but we didn’t really do much to get them in. A lot of two-out hits that just did not go our way and we didn’t have the same start to the game like Friday.”

Self-induced mistakes were also the name of the game for Bradley. Along with the rough offensive output, the Braves made defensive and pitching mistakes that gave the Hilltoppers more runs.

“It was 2-0 and then we made an error with two outs that cost us another run, so then [it was] 3-0,” Dominguez said. “The deficit is a little bit bigger and then we made a walk and a hit batsman. So it was not like we got beat, we did it to ourselves.”

Getting the start for Bradley was junior right hander Travis Lutz. Lutz tossed five innings for the Braves, allowing six hits and three earned runs while also punching out five Hilltoppers.

If it was not for a fifth inning full of self-induced errors, his outing would have been all around great according to Dominguez.

“I thought it was good other than that [fifth inning],” Dominguez said. “Where he basically gave up two to three runs and it was all self-inflicted. He hit a guy, crossed the catcher up for a wild pitch then another wild pitch [after that]. Other than that, he is going to be a big key for us and he pitched exceptionally well, except for that.”

The Hilltoppers were held scoreless in the sixth inning, but the deficit was too much to overcome for the Braves as they lost their first game of the season.

Braves unable to win series against Hilltoppers

A quick turnaround for the Braves gave them an opportunity to salvage the series against the Hilltoppers, but to no avail. Bradley left Kentucky empty-handed with a 3-5 loss.

Bradley fought hard in a pitchers duel, though. The game did not get much of its scoring until the later innings.

“[It was a] great pitchers duel,” Dominguez said. “From our standpoint, we went up against a really good pitching staff so we had to scratch for any runs we could get. [Western Kentucky] had to do the same thing, but our guys did not execute as well as their kids.”

Junior Jack Stellano got the start for the Braves and the left hander flourished. He threw four innings of scoreless baseball and allowed three hits.

In reflecting on his performance, Stellano would have liked to be sharper with his pitches, but his goal going into the start was to do well enough to give his team a chance.

“I felt good,” Stellano said. “I just would have loved to have more of my off speed and command there and get over for more strikes. The whole goal was just to give the team a chance. I saw how the sticks were doing behind me, just give them a chance.”

This start was also the first ever Division I appearance for Stellano, who mentioned that he definitely felt some nerves beforehand, which he turned into a quality performance.

“There are some nerves,” Stellano said. “Once the first inning became over the nerves turned into adrenaline and then it just kind of took off from there.”

Bradley’s offense refused to get shut out for a second straight game and tallied runs all in the sixth inning or later.

It started with Vogel scoring on a wild pitch in the sixth to tie the ballgame at one. Then in the eighth, down by two runs, sophomore Beau Durbin singled up the middle on a 2-2 count to bring in two more runs to tie the game at three.

Western Kentucky struck fire in the bottom of the eighth, scoring two runs to give them the lead,  and ultimately the ballgame.

“… It was just nip and tuck, it was just two punchers, two boxers just going out at a time and they went on,” Dominguez said.

Looking ahead

Bradley heads to Las Vegas for a three-game weekend series against UNLV, where they hope for better success against the Rebels. 

“[UNLV is] good, they just played Stanford,” Dominguez said. “They are a solid ballclub, it will be another great challenge. Everybody always wants to play the best, so we are trying to play the best that is going to prepare us for conference.”

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