As Bradley baseball looked to jump over the .500 mark for the first time this season against a strong and experienced Jacksonville State squad, the team found their groove and reached the magic number 500 in more ways than one earning their head coach, Elvis Dominguez the 500th and 501st victory of his lengthy career.
“I didn’t even know,” Dominguez said. “The one thing I am proud of, is after the game, my players found out [and] alumni mentioned it. They got wind of it, I don’t have Twitter, they’re the ones that informed me.”
After coaching baseball for 36 years, one would think a moment like this would be special but for the coach, they were just two more wins. Dominguez was happy to reach this milestone in his career, but not because of how that number looked on a piece of paper.
“It’s more important to me the fact that I’ve been able to do this profession for so long, it’s my 36th year; 15th at Bradley,” Dominguez said. “To be able to just have an impact on young people’s lives, young men, and have an experience to be able to share with them is really what it’s all about.”
“We didn’t actually find out until that night when we saw it on social media,” Chatterton said. “The next night after we won especially made it a little better, getting that 501st win. We all signed a ball and gave him a big congratulations.”
On Friday, the Braves used a late surge to climb past the Gamecocks in extras by a 4-3 final. The next day, they followed that up with a 9-7 victory which pushed them above .500 for the first time. That stay was brief as they lost the getaway game on Sunday 11-5.
The Braves fought every inch of the way to win Friday’s game. Entering the top of the ninth, Bradley was down 3-2. Suddenly, Chatterton hit a solo bomb to right field, tying the game 3-3.
Going into extra innings for the second time this season, the Braves entered the 11th inning with senior Connor O’Brien riding a pitch out of the park, taking the 4-3 lead which the road team held on to win in thrilling fashion..
Even after going 3-for-4 at the plate, Chatterton said it was less about him and more about doing whatever it takes for his team and feeling this was a must-win weekend.
“It was a huge series, Coach [Dominguez] was talking it up the whole week [that] this is the turning point of the season,” Chatterton said. “This is where winners win or losers fall over, and we definitely didn’t fall over. That was our whole goal, no matter what was happening, no matter the score, just stay up.”
Saturday’s game had a different feel for the group, as they grabbed a 9-7 win over the Gamecocks. After the second, Bradley was down 5-2, but with some well-timed hits and magnificent baserunning, the Braves gained the lead in the fifth and never looked back.
Senior Ryan Vogel went 2-for-4 with a walk and scored two of Bradley’s runs. The leadoff center fielder used his bat and legs to help put a man on base, giving chances for his team to bring in runs and change momentum.
“We faced some tough pitchers all weekend and getting on base is one of the most important things you can do,” Vogel said. “I really just try and get on base as much as I possibly can, whether it’s a hit or walk or just beat something out on the ground. I think I really helped us out on the bases a lot.”
The Braves didn’t have the same fire on Sunday, losing 11-5. Bradley had the lead through four innings, but when Jacksonville State opened the door in the bottom of the fourth, they never looked back.
Within every tough loss is a slimmer of hope, which in this case was the Braves winning the series against a tough team who had taken care of MVC title contender Southern Illinois the week prior. On Sunday, Vogel went 3-5, scoring twice and bringing in one. He believes that this weekend was a step in the right direction for this club, one that will propel them to more outcomes like this in the following weeks.
“The energy was definitely different, something definitely needed to change after the first two weekends cause we’ve been better than both the teams that we’ve faced, we gave away a few games that we definitely wish we had back,” Vogel said. “To come out and win that game Friday night against a really good Jacksonville State team, to come out and beat them was really big. You don’t get many chances to go into Sunday looking for a sweep, we didn’t get the sweep but the energy was great, it was like a whole different team from weekend to weekend.”
Dominguez understands that they have been going up against really high-caliber teams, but timely hitting needs to improve for greater success. The only issue he believes needs to be overcome is giving up big innings, then the pressure of those timely hits shouldn’t take them out of as many games.
“The one thing we’re lacking right now is timely hitting, but that’s just repetition and so forth,” Dominguez said. “When you’re going up against the caliber that we keep going up against, those things are bound to even themselves out throughout the year. So I’m hoping that’s the one thing that we can address, but other than that we’ve pitched a pretty decent, played defense well, it’s just a matter of getting those timely hits.”
Now at 4-4, Bradley will head down for some spring break action in Florida as they’ll get set to take on Jacksonville in a three-game set.