Despite strong crosswinds and cold temperatures on Wednesday, Bradley baseball (19-10, 0-3) beat Big 10 opponent Iowa 3-1. It was payback time for Bradley after losing to the Hawkeyes 4-2 on March 26, giving up four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning.
After winning the previous six games by a combined score of 67-10, Bradley grinded out the win and outhit the Hawkeyes, 7-4.
“We played solid baseball tonight and we knew it was going to be tough to score. It wasn’t going to be a blowout [like the past weekend],” Bradley head coach Elvis Dominguez said. “Our guys battled through all the elements. We executed and that was the key to the ball game.”
The Braves scored their first run in the fifth inning on a safety squeeze by senior infielder Christian Dominguez. He had two RBIs in the game.
Bradley pitching staff’s lone run was unearned and came in the seventh inning. Iowa tried to take a page out of Dominguez’s playbook by bunting twice, one of which resulted in the run scoring throwing error.
“[Look at the] elements and [you know] scoring was going to be at a premium,” Elvis Dominguez said. “We are a small ball club and, I mean, [we] bunt a lot and I don’t mind saying that since that’s what gets runners into scoring position.”
Getting runners on second or third base was key for Bradley as two runs came on fielder’s choices and one on a line drive single to right center field.
On the other side of the ball, sophomore catcher Keaton Rice thought Bradley’s pitchers did what they were expected.
“Our pitchers have been great all year and they didn’t really come out and surprise anyone,” Rice said. “They gave up one run on four hits. I mean they’re just doing their job.”
It was an eventful night for Rice who had two hits, scored twice and drove a run in.
“Some of the games I’ll get probably 50 percent of the calls,” Rice said. “[Pitching coach Larry] Scully really trusts me with that and he gave me a scouting report at the beginning of the game and I went off what he had.”
Scully was suspended for the Iowa game after getting tossed during the Western Illinois game on Tuesday. He was ejected for arguing Western Illinois called too many timeouts at the plate, frustrating Bradley pitchers.
Going off the scouting report worked for Rice and the rest of the pitchers who sport a 2.09 ERA. Redshirt junior Ben Cilano threw a career-high five innings to start, striking out four, walking none and only surrendering two hits.
In the seventh inning, after junior D.J. DePiero walked the first batter and fell behind the second batter, redshirt senior Allan Beer entered the game with the 2-0 count and struck out three in nearly two innings.
After earning his first Bradley save at Western Illinois the night before, junior Theo Denlinger entered with two runners on base and two outs in the eighth. The first batter he faced he struck out looking. With two outs in the eighth, Denlinger came in and closed out the win for Bradley.
“Coming into the ninth I had a lot of anticipation about what was going to happen,” Denlinger said. “Obviously I came out and did my job. I just came in and filled it up pretty much and I got us the game and got a save.”
Cilano said he was thankful for the opportunity to pitch against his first Big 10 program since 2016. He threw 63 pitches versus Iowa and 18 at Northwestern.
“Coach just came up to me and said ‘You got the ball’ and that was pretty exciting,” Cilano said. “My defense was unbelievable behind me … they made great plays behind me. They helped me be able to go longer. I was just trying to fill it up and let them do the rest.”
It wasn’t just the defense of his position players though. Cilano caught a sinking line drive in the fourth and fielded a ball the next play later to finish the frame. Dominguez said he looked to give Cilano 50 to 60 pitches to save the bullpen’s energy.
“Cilano did a masterful job, especially playing five games this week,” Dominguez said. “He was on a pitch count and today he threw a lot of strikes and had command of three pitches. He set the tone for us on the mound and really put our bullpen in a position to win.”
Bradley hosts Southern Illinois (17-12, 1-2) for a three-game series this weekend beginning at 6 p.m. tonight at Dozer. The Braves will look to win their first Missouri Valley Conference game.