A non-conference schedule that saw the Bradley Braves baseball team travel thousands of miles and adapt to ever-fluid schedules came to a close this week against Creighton and SIU-Edwardsville.
The Braves awoke Dozer Park from its slumber on Tuesday against SIUE, the first game Bradley had played in downtown Peoria in 688 days. The Braves played 28 games away from home during that stretch. A limited crowd of players’ families saw the Braves end a six-game losing skid, winning 7-2 against their in-state foe.
In his first collegiate start, freshman pitcher Kaden Krueger, who gave up a run in the first and second innings to SIUE, came into the contest riding a five-game winning streak. The Cougars’ bats were silenced after the opening frames, as Bradley’s bullpen combined for 7.2 shutout innings. Senior Ryan Hodgett, junior Troy Hickey, junior Nick King and senior Theron Denlinger ensured that the Bradley bullpen would not falter again as it occasionally has this season.
Denlinger faced a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth, but he struck out back-to-back batters to seal and stamp the Braves victory. The pitching staff was also assisted by four double-plays turned by the Braves young infield to extinguish any momentum the Cougars could muster.
“The double plays really got the dugout going and created momentum for us,” sophomore first baseman Connor O’Brien said. “It’s great to see the freshmen [TJ Manteufel and Jackson Chatterton] working together up the middle.”
Junior designated hitter Eli Rawlinson headed the Braves offense in the middle innings with four RBI. Chatterton scored on a fielding error in the third to initiate the Braves scoring before a Rawlinson two-run single and freshman Ryan Vogel’s sacrifice fly gave the Braves a 4-2 advantage after four innings. Freshman left fielder Carson Husmann singled home a run in the fifth before Rawlinson scorched a double down the left field line to bring two more Braves across the dish.
It was the first game in a Bradley uniform at Dozer Park for both classes of Bradley’s freshmen; both those who are true freshmen in 2021 and those who maintained such athletic status due to the NCAA giving athletes an extra year of eligibility.
According to O’Brien, Dozer Park wasn’t the only field Bradley played on this past week that seemed majestic. The Braves also traveled to Omaha, Nebraska to clash with Creighton at TD Ameritrade Field, home of the College World Series last weekend. College baseball’s Field of Dreams, as well as Mother Nature, wasn’t as kind to the Braves.
After Friday’s game was canceled due to rain, Bradley faced another early deficit on Saturday, giving up two runs in the first inning. However, O’Brien brought home two on a single, giving Bradley a 4-2 lead after three innings. The Braves could not hold onto the lead though as Creighton’s Alan Roden socked a three-run home run in the seventh and the Bluejays took the game 6-4.
Sunday’s action saw Creighton rough up Bradley’s freshman starter Taylor Catton for five early runs, but the Braves’ signature resilience helped them battle back. O’Brien played hero yet again, bringing the Braves to within two after a fifth inning three-run dinger.
“At Creighton, the pitchers really fill up the zone. Knowing that, I was aggressive early and seeing the ball up,” said O’Brien, who finished the weekend going 4-7 with 5 RBI.
All-MVC pick, senior Dan Bolt also went 4-5 at the plate on Sunday, but it wasn’t enough for the Braves, who succumbed by a score of 9-5.
Bradley’s record stands at 6-9 after the non-conference schedule and facing many quality opponents such as Creighton, Ball State and Mercer. The Braves are set to open Missouri Valley Conference play at Missouri State this weekend.