The Bradley baseball team’s bats were hot in Springfield, Missouri, this past weekend as the team swept usual-powerhouse Missouri State. It was the first sweep ever at Missouri State and first road series win there since 1993.
Bradley scored 32 runs in the three game series, the highest scoring output in a series this season. Bradley’s hitters came up clutch and bailed out the pitching staff that was ranked third in Division I ERA entering the weekend. The pitchers surrendered 24 runs throughout the three game series.
The Braves trailed in both of the first two games until the eighth inning. Ninth year head coach Elvis Dominguez said all he could do was watch from the dugout as the timely hits kept coming.
“I thought ‘Jeez … we might get one here,’” Dominguez said. “I just sat back in awe because in baseball you just never know until the last out is recorded.”
On Friday night, Bradley rallied from three runs down in the top of the ninth inning to win 10-9. After senior right fielder JF Garon singled to leadoff the inning, freshman first baseman Connor O’Brien and senior center fielder Andy Shadid hit back-to-back doubles to left center field.
Three batters later, with the bases loaded, senior infielder Nick McMurray came to the plate for his eighth pinch-hit at bat. He dropped a bunt down the third baseline for his fifth pinch-hit base knock. The next batter, junior shortstop Luke Shadid, who leads the team in batting average at .333, singled to right center field to secure the Bradley victory.
“I was just trying to find a way to pass it on and that was our mindset during the comeback,” McMurray said. “I wasn’t planning on bunting, but our best hitter was behind me so I need to give him a chance to win the game.”
McMurray and senior Christian Dominguez have platooned throughout the season at second base. McMurray, a left-handed batter, said he focuses on what similar hitters are doing so that he can be ready to deliver clutch hits when his number is called. He went 4-8 on the weekend.
The Braves struggled at the plate for much of the season until the middle of April and relied heavily on their pitching. The 32 runs Bradley pushed across the plate were a welcoming sight for Dominguez who said the offense is what he expected it to be from the outset of the season.
Bradley’s five and six hitters were the highlight of the weekend. O’Brien went 8-16 at the plate and boosted his batting average 31 points. Five of his hits went for extra bases. Andy Shadid was recognized for a second time this season as a Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Week and a Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week on Monday. He went 5-13 in the series and drove in nine runs.
“They kept working and working and finally it clicked,” Dominguez said. “From top to bottom [of our lineup] there isn’t an easy out. Three weeks ago, I could have said ‘Sheesh, we are struggling here.’”
Three weeks before the Missouri State series, fiery junior right-handed reliever Theo Denlinger earned his first save. In Springfield, Denlinger pitched two and two-thirds innings and earned his fourth and fifth saves of the season.
Denlinger admits that he brings lots of energy to the mound and that he thinks it boosts individual and team-wide confidence while also making opposing batter fearful at the plate. He said the two saves over the weekend and putting the finishing touches on the sweep was a highlight of his Division I career, but his mindset in each appearance remains the same.
“I look at the batter, no matter who they are, and just know that I’m better than them and I’m going to get them out,” Denlinger said. “I’m not trying to do this mentally to be cocky but it really boosts my confidence against any batter and helps me locate the ball where they can’t hit it.”
In the second game of the series, the team scored 14 runs in the final three innings to claim the win 16-9.
On Sunday, Bradley got its first quality start of the weekend from senior Sam Lund. His five innings of shutout ball nearly went to waste after redshirt junior Ben Olson gave up four runs in two innings of work. The Braves needed Denlinger to hold a close lead once again in order to win 6-5.
It was the first time this season that Friday night starter senior Mitch Janssen lacked command of his pitches. Janssen walked four in four innings of work. On Saturday, sophomore Brooks Gosswein lasted four and a third innings in his second rough start in a row. He was charged with three runs on six hits and walked three. Dominguez, however, was impressed by the bullpen the entire weekend.
“The key to any successful baseball season is having a strong bullpen,” Dominguez said. “[The starters] grinded it out, turned it over to the bullpen and the[y] did an unbelievable job.”
Denlinger said the entire team was thrilled about the sweep but did not celebrate. Rather they decided to stay focused and prepare for the next game.
“The team was absolutely ecstatic about the sweep and about making a statement in the Valley,” Denlinger said.
Bradley currently sits fifth in the Missouri Valley Conference at 7-5, but McMurray said the team is clicking right now.
“We gotta keep focusing on the next pitch, one pitch at a time, one game at a time and hopefully we keep rolling like we have been,” McMurray said.
The Braves host the 2-10 Crusaders of Valparaiso at Dozer Park today through Sunday. All games are scheduled for 12 p.m. starts.