Two weekends into their 2020 campaign, the Bradley baseball team is searching for more consistency. The Braves sit at 1-6 on the young season after losing three out of four games in last weekend’s SAF Classic in central Tennessee. Despite a dismal result, head coach Elvis Dominguez is pleased with the team’s play, but sees more potential going forward.
“I thought we played well,” Dominguez said. “We made some strides … just a matter of being more consistent.”
The bats were quiet in the first game on Thursday at Middle Tennessee, as the team was held to only one hit, which came from a double by junior catcher Keaton Rice in the top of the ninth. Overall, only two players reached base for the Braves.
On Friday against Lipscomb, the Braves progressively climbed their way back from a 9-1 deficit after a two-run double from sophomore first baseman Connor O’Brien in the fifth inning and a three-run homer from senior left fielder Dan Bolt in the sixth inning. After a run-scoring double play slowed the momentum, the Braves came up short, losing 10-7.
Bradley’s offense continued to produce on Saturday in an 11-4 rout of Austin Peay. They were led by two home runs each from Bolt and junior second baseman Adam Rellihan. Pitching was stout as junior Nick King earned the win by allowing just one hit in four innings in his first career start.
In the trip finale, the pitching faltered late as Belmont scored six unanswered runs to defeat the Braves 8-7 in walk off fashion.
Offensively, the Braves continue to steadily produce runs, averaging 6.2 runs per game in the road swing. Senior shortstop Luke Shadid continues to get on base, reaching safely in 13 consecutive games dating back to last season.
Bolt took home the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week Award after finishing with three home runs and seven runs batted in.
“[Bolt’s] made himself an all-around good player… now he’s a team leader,” Dominguez said.
Pitching remains the main concern of Dominguez. Last week, the the pitching staff was responsible for 21 earned runs and 23 walks over the four-game stretch. Much of the woes of the staff are due to inexperience.
“Right now, we’re very timid on the mound and we need to be more aggressive,” Dominguez said. “It’s really put us in a hole too many times.”
Rice said that he hasn’t changed his approach and will use his knowledge learned throughout college and in the Cape Cod League to help the staff.
“I know that I have to be locked in for every pitch in order for those guys to succeed and it really doesn’t matter who is pitching for us,” Rice said. “I have to be energetic and build their confidence on the mound because they will pitch to a new level if I do.”
Despite the early inconsistencies of the staff, Dominguez expects the pitching to improve as the season moves forward.
“They’re too talented to be able to perform at this level,” Dominguez said. “We’re going to score runs, we have been able to score runs, it’s just a matter of trying to minimize it on the other side.”
Rice says the progress is already visible, thanks in part to pitching coach Andrew Werner.
“He works with those guys day in and day out with mechanics, timing and different types of plays that the pitchers might have to make when they are on the field,” Rice said. “It is going to be really fun to see what the pitching staff can do during this year.”
With two weeks under their belt, the goal for this week is to work on playing at the team’s full potential.
“We want to be able to play a complete ballgame,” Dominguez said. “We want to be able to do it on all aspects: pitching, hitting and defense, and right now we’re doing it on two of the three.”
The Braves head back to the Volunteer State today to begin a three-game series with Tennessee Tech. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m.