Last weekend, the Bradley baseball team swept Missouri Valley Conference foe Southern Illinois. The series sweep and a win at Illinois Tuesday night moved the Braves to 23-10 overall and a 3-3 conference record.
The four wins extend the team’s winning streak to 11 games, the team’s longest since the 2007 season and the best active win streak in the NCAA.
The Braves struggled at the plate early in the season, but the team started a quirky new tradition to get the bats going. Head coach Elvis Dominguez said he asked a collegue for ideas which led to the purchase of a sombrero.
“I sensed there was too worrying about the outcome instead of the process itself,” Dominguez said. “So I went to Party City on [the] Monday morning [after the Evansville sweep] and picked up the biggest, ugliest thing I could find. I walked into our game against Western [Illinois] and told the guys, ‘Any time we score, if you want to be on national television, this is how it’s going to be.’ It got them to be loose which is exactly what I wanted.”
The sombrero proved successful this past Tuesday at Illinois, where Bradley belted six home runs in a 12-8 victory. It was the most homers in a game against a Division I team since 2001 for the Braves. The teams combinined to use 14 pitchers.
In the weekend before, the Braves kicked off the series on Friday with an 8-0 shutout. They kept the Salukis off the base paths and only committed one error.
Offensively, the Braves dominated with eight hits. Their first run came via a triple from junior left fielder Dan Bolt, which brought in junior shortstop Luke Shadid to give the Braves a first inning lead.
In the third inning, senior center fielder Andy Shadid pushed the lead to 5-0 by hitting a three-run homer. In the bottom of the fourth, the Braves extended their lead to 8-0 on three singles, a walk and a hit by pitch.
On the mound, senior right-handed pitcher Mitch Janssen threw his first career complete game with 97 pitches. He finished with six strikeouts, no walks and only allowed three hits. The performance dropped his ERA to 1.18 and brought his record to 3-1.
Janssen said he was happy about his first ever Division I complete game on the mound.
“In high school, you play seven innings, so [a complete game] kind of happens a lot,” Janssen said. “I started counting the outs and we had all those runs. I thought I could take it all the way. I wasn’t expecting a shut out, but I’m glad I got it.”
Bradley finished the series with a doubleheader on Saturday to avoid Sunday’s snowstorm.
In game one, Bradley continued its offensive prowess, winning 14-4 in seven innings. Bradley allowed five of Southern Illinois’ six hits in the second frame. Southern Illinois’ four runs also came in the second inning.
Similar to Friday, Bradley struck early, earning a 3-0 lead in the first inning. The runs came on a solo home run from Luke Shadid and a two-run homer from Bolt.
Bradley continued its strong offensive showing, scoring two runs in both the third and fifth innings before plating five in the sixth to extend the lead to 12-4. A seventh inning two-run walk-off double by sophomore designated hitter Eli Rawlinson to the left field corner 10-run ruled the Salukis.
Dominguez said he was excited to see the offense continue to excel over the weekend.
“We have a veteran ball club,” Dominguez said. “For whatever reason it clicked right after the Evansville series… But to finally see those guys have the kind of year they were anticipating is a breath of fresh air.”
The Braves won game two 7-1. Southern Illinois’ lone run came in the fifth from a ground ball, allowing the runner on third to advance home.
The Braves struck first with Rawlinson hitting a two RBI single to left field in the second inning. Later in the third, senior right fielder Jean-Francois Garon hit a two-run homer to bring the score to 4-0. The final three runs came off runners advancing on walks in the third and fourth innings.
All together, the Braves pitching staff struck out six batters and only walked two. Dominguez praised the pitching staff’s performance this weekend. The staff boasts a collective 2.25 ERA.
“We’re leading the country in ERA. [It’s] just over two,” Dominguez said. “They have a great work ethic and continue to go out and execute the plan.”
Bradley will face Missouri Valley opponent Dallas Baptist this weekend. The first pitch of the three game series will be thrown at 4 p.m. this afternoon in Texas.