Adaptability: It’s been the name of the game for Bradley baseball this year. The Braves were able to schedule yet another opponent on short notice last weekend, triggered by Western Illinois facing a COVID-19-related pause.
However, “anomaly” may be the Braves’ word of the week after they picked up two wins in three games against the St. Louis Billikens.
Friday and Sunday’s games saw the Braves win by a hefty margin, but Saturday’s contest – a 9-6 loss – left a lot to be desired, according to head coach Elvis Dominguez.
“I was very disappointed on Saturday just from a total team effort,” Dominguez said. “We just didn’t play with any urgency, didn’t play with any passion or energy at all whatsoever. It was unacceptable, so we had a long chat with the team and myself and we came out with a little different perspective on Sunday.”
The Braves rebounded from the anomaly with a positive one on Sunday as they won the rubber match 13-3. The 10-run margin wasn’t the Braves’ largest of the weekend, emerging victorious by a score of 18-4 on Friday, a game that was ended after seven innings due to the mercy rule.
After a seven-game stretch of scoring six or fewer runs in a game, the Braves exploded for a total of 37 runs in the three-game set, the most since scoring the same amount at Alabama State earlier in the season.
One of the biggest keys to the Braves’ high-octane output over the weekend was second baseman Jackson Chatterton. The freshman went 6-13 at the plate against St. Louis with five RBI and two home runs, doubling his previous total for the year.
“I’ve been waiting for [my bat to come alive] because Coach was saying in the fall, ‘Once you get it, it’s just going to click, and once it clicks you just got it from there. I was waiting all season for that click,” Chatterton said. “Coach always says, ‘One of you has to be the guy,’ and once one guy decides to do so, it’s contagious off of that. I guess I could say I was the guy that first game on Friday because I hit that home run and after that everyone just started rolling.”
After junior Dalton Mall, making his first appearance in just under a month, gave up an early run to the Billikens, Chatterton tied the game at one with a solo home run to left field in the bottom of the third inning.
“Once you’re in a two-strike count, which I was in at that at-bat, I was just trying to put the ball in play,” Chatterton said. “I just threw my hands at it and just watched the ball fly.”
The Dunlap native was not done though, as he brought two more teammates across with a bases-loaded single in the Braves five-run fourth. Chatterton picked up another RBI single later in the fifth, as the Braves batted around on their way to posting 11 runs. The fifth-inning onslaught was the second-most runs Bradley had ever scored in an inning since playing at Dozer Park.
“Once you get the bats rolling, you can’t stop them,” Chatterton said.
Shortstop TJ Manteufel, center fielder Ryan Vogel and first baseman Isaiah Gudeman, all freshmen, also contributed multiple RBI in the sizable victory.
Senior third baseman Brandon Dougherty also contributed strongly throughout the weekend with eight RBI on five hits in the series. Dougherty is now tied for eighth in Bradley baseball’s 106-year history with 215 hits.
St. Louis was able to rough up Bradley starter Matt Hamilton for five runs in the first three innings of game two. Chatterton slugged his second home run of the series in the Bradley half of the fifth inning to cut the deficit to 6-2. After the Billikens struck Braves reliever Jed Moscot for two more runs in the sixth, Bradley responded with a four-run seventh, keyed by a Dougherty single that scored two. The Braves were not able to surmount the deficit though, dropping the contest 9-6.
“Matt Hamilton did not get hit hard at all. It wasn’t anything he did wrong, it was just baseball. It’s hard to explain but the other team just found every angle and every hole that they could possibly find,” Dominguez said. “I was more upset with our lack of effort, our attitude, our demeanor and swagger. [It] was just not there and that’s what irked me a little bit because we had just come back from Friday night where it was an 18-4 game.”
The Braves recovered from their uncharacteristic performance, starting with a Dan Bolt solo dinger in the first inning on Sunday. The stalwart senior outfielder added two RBI doubles later in the game.
Bradley added three runs in both the third and fifth innings to jump ahead 7-1 and put the icing on the cake with a five-run ninth inning. Junior catcher Keaton Rice contributed four RBI to lead the Braves in the deciding game.
Braves starter Brooks Gosswein was able to stymie St. Louis in the series rubber match, allowing just one earned run and striking out six in six innings of work. In his last 20 innings, the junior has now struck out 17 while allowing only two earned runs.
“He prepares the same way for every game,” Dominguez said. “His stuff is always there, he’s always got that dominant fastball plus slider and changeup. It’s a grind, but now he’s been able to pitch and he’s executing really well.”
The Braves’ scheduled series against Indiana State this weekend will not be played due to Bradley not having enough athletes to play due to COVID-19 contact tracing. However, the Braves counted themselves as lucky to be able to find an opponent and play last weekend, even if it wasn’t against a Missouri Valley Conference foe.
“I just wanted to make sure that we kept the momentum going because we were coming off a pretty good weekend against Southern Illinois,” Dominguez said. “I wanted to keep the pitchers all in gear and that our hitters got live at-bats rather than take a week off.”
The Braves have three series remaining, facing Valparaiso, Dallas Baptist and Illinois State. According to Dominguez and Chatterton, the keys to a successful close to the regular season are pitching consistently and executing in important games.
“It’s just a matter of execution,” Dominguez said. “The plate hasn’t moved since Abraham Lincoln was in office, so why [are] we having trouble finding it [some days]? Every manager’s question is ‘How [is] this guy not throwing strikes? He just was throwing strikes a week ago.’”
For Chatterton and the Braves, all eyes are on Dallas Baptist.
“Everyone since the beginning of the season has been waiting for DBU,” Chatterton said. “Whenever we’re not playing, we’re always watching their games.”
Regardless of what the rest of the season holds, the Braves head coach remains optimistic and likes how the team has performed as of late. Bradley currently sits at 14-15 overall and 6-5 in conference play, good for fifth in the MVC standings and one half game behind Illinois State.
“Right now, I’m trying to get our guys to peak at the right time and I think we’ve started to peak,” Dominguez said. “We’ve won five out of our last six and it’s right where we need to be going into the home stretch.”