Bradley took three out of four games from Southern Illinois in an emotional weekend, improving their record to 12-14 overall, 6-5 in conference play.
Not only did the Braves take down the Salukis, but they also honored the life of a former teammate on Friday night and battled cancer in a separate event on Sunday afternoon.
Former Braves pitcher Mitch Janssen died in a plane crash last March along I-55, rocking the Bradley program. Janssen, who graduated in 2019, was a teammate to 15 current Bradley players.
The team wore special hats with an “MJ 21” patch on the right side, honoring their former teammate.
“It was really a roller coaster kind of weekend, [and] obviously an emotional day on Friday,” Dominguez said. “I think this will be an annual thing:, set one game aside where we keep his legacy going. He was such a great kid and had a great impact on 15 or 16 guys still on this club.”
The Braves dropped Friday’s game 5-4 before bouncing back to outscore the Salukis 9-3 in three straight wins to close the series. Pitching led the way for Bradley this weekend.
“We had a good game plan going in,” head coach Elvis Dominguez said. “Every pitch was a grind this weekend because they were one swing away from opening it up. Our guys really executed tremendously and I was really, really proud of them.”
Junior starter Matt Hamilton went 6.2 innings in game one on Saturday before handing the ball over to redshirt junior Theron Denlinger, who gave up one run before nailing down the save. Junior Grant Jausel and freshman Taylor Catton combined for two runs on five hits over nine innings in a thriller in game two.
Junior Brooks Gosswein threw a gem in the series finale, striking out six in eight innings of shutout work. He only allowed one hit.
Not only did the pitching step up this weekend, but clutch at-bats returned to the Braves lineup.
Similar to last weekend, the Braves bats delivered a walk-off home run, this time courtesy of sophomore Connor O’Brien. He humbly claimed it was his first walk-off bomb ever.
“If I get a fastball around the plate, and I’m sitting there and looking for it, I’m putting a good swing on it for the team,” O’Brien said. “It was unbelievable rounding the bases and looking at the team, everyone going crazy. It was something special to be a part of.”
O’Brien is currently hitting .416, tied for the 13th best batting average in the nation as of Wednesday. He’s on track to break the single season record set by Mike Tauchman for the highest batting average in a Bradley uniform at .425.
Sunday’s victory was followed by Bradley honoring their commitment to fighting against cancer as well, raising a total of over $23,000. This makes the Braves the top fundraising team in the nation.
The fight continues in more ways than one. The Braves will continue to support the Vs. Cancer Foundation, symbolically now, with shaved heads.
They’ll move ahead to the next foe, St. Louis, who visits this weekend.
Bradley was originally scheduled to face Western Illinois, but the Leathernecks entered a COVID-19 related pause last week. St. Louis’s scheduled opponent, Dayton, did the same. Thus, the two programs linked up for a three-game series.
The change in opponent doesn’t mean much to O’Brien.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing; if we’re preparing to play the worst team in the country or the number one team in the country, we’re preparing to play to the best of our abilities,” O’Brien said.
The Braves host the Billikens this weekend with the first pitch of game one scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight.