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Hot and cold Braves go 1-2 versus Bears

Bradley baseball’s Michael Mylott celebrates after hitting a double in a game against Missouri State on April 6, 2024. Photo courtesy of Bradley Athletics.

Bradley baseball (10-18) salvaged their weekend against Missouri State by winning the third game of the series 10-2, the seventh time they’ve scored double-digit runs this season.

In the other two games, they put up donuts.

A 1-2 weekend for the Braves was highlighted by that win in the second game of a doubleheader on Saturday, the same day they lost 14-0 and a day after they fell 9-0. The team’s diametric nature has been a recurring theme this season, and head coach Elvis Dominguez doesn’t have any answers.

“That’s the curse and beauty of our sport,” Dominguez said. “The third game [our] same [lineup] just was able to catch a few breaks and then all of a sudden it just exploded from there.”

The offensive outburst in game three was spurred by junior Timmy O’Brien, who went 3-4 with two doubles and four RBIs, tying a season-high. Along with him, sophomore Beau Durbin and juniors Tyrese Johnson, Ryan Taylor and Travis Lutz all had multi-hit games, with the latter’s coming as a pinch hitter. Bradley tallied 16 hits and six doubles in the rout.

It started in the second, when junior Cole Luckey doubled to score junior Michael Mylott. In the next frame, Johnson and O’Brien both doubled, plating three more runs to give the Braves a 4-0 lead.

“As a team we kind of went into that game knowing that was a big one even though we lost the series and the weekend, which was disappointing,” O’Brien said. “We knew we had to go into that game and get a win because I think that will really help us down the line.”

Bradley’s lead extended to 7-0 in the fifth, until senior Ryan Vogel singled home Taylor to push the lead out one more run. Missouri State’s Dylan Leach hit a solo homer in the sixth, his first of two in the game, but O’Brien answered back with another two-run double to make it 10-1 and cut down any hope of a Bear comeback.

“We got into their bullpen, which was big,” O’Brien said. “Everytime you go into a third game you kind of wear down their pitching staff, so that might’ve been a part of it too.”

The explosion on Saturday came a little too late, as Friday’s game, which served as the de facto home opener following multiple weather-related cancellations, saw Bradley get shutout by MVC First-Team selection Brandt Thompson. The league leader in ERA (2.03), Thompson went seven innings, allowing three hits and striking out six.

“He [Thompson] is the bonafide ace of the whole entire Missouri Valley,” Dominguez said. “He just dominated us, there’s no [other] ways to even say about it.”

On Bradley’s side, redshirt sophomore Noah Edders went six and two-thirds, striking out four and walking five while allowing seven runs. Four of those runs were unearned, as Edders and Durbin both committed errors.

Game two was a similar story, but this time it was Jason Schaaf shutting down the Braves. He gave up three hits and struck out six in five innings of work, while his offense needed only four innings to put up 14 runs.

Ultimately, O’Brien says the Braves’ offense left the pitching staff out to dry in the two shutouts, as they only came up with four hits in each game.

“They had some good arms going, but I think we were just not making adjustments,” O’Brien said. “We were not using our previous at-bats to learn from [and] go into our future at-bats and we just couldn’t get anything going.”

On the mound for the Braves to start game two was Lutz, who’s performance left something to be desired. The Illinois Central College transfer gave up seven earned on five hits and four walks, striking out six in four innings. Along with relievers Jack Stellano and Theo Zeidler, Bradley walked eight guys on Saturday and 15 in the first two games combined.

“I don’t care if it’s Missouri State or Dunlap High School. Anytime you put on free runners, it’s a recipe for disaster,” Dominguez said. “Everybody we brought in, they basically created their own messes and then all of a sudden one base hit opened up the floodgates.”

The struggles on the mound were compounded by a host of schedule changes that threw off the Braves’ rotation. The team has had their last three mid-week games rained out, all of which were supposed to be played at home, and game three of the weekend was supposed to be played on Sunday until forecasted rain turned it into a doubleheader on Saturday. Dominguez says that messes up players’ rest.

Timmy O’Brien claps after hitting a double in a game against Missouri State on April 6, 2024. Photo courtesy of Bradley Athletics.

Mother Nature did produce a silver lining. Sophomore reliever Brayden Marks was thrust into his first career start for game three on Saturday, which ended up being familiar territory for a guy who started all throughout high school.

“It was fun,” Marks said. “Knowing I was getting a start, it was kind of just like riding a bike again.”

Marks gave up just two hits in five shutout innings, striking out five in the process. Most importantly for Dominguez, he didn’t walk anyone.

“We were just short-handed when we got to the third game so we gave him the ball and said go out and get us six outs, seven outs, you know, maybe one or two times through the lineup,” Dominguez said. “He was able to do that [and] he was dominant.”

“Just compete and throw strikes,” Marks said. “The first couple of games we struggled with some free runners, some walks, hit by pitches and then being forced to leave something over the plate. Just get ahead early in the counts and then make my pitch when the time came.”

Freshman Anthony Edge and junior Anthony Potthoff combined to finish off the Bears, holding their red-hot lineup to just two runs.

“A lot of sliders and change ups was kind of what we were working to get the swings and misses, but mainly fastballs to their big guys just moving it around the zone,” Marks said.

Dominguez hinted at the potential of Marks starting more games in the future, but it will depend on whether the team needs him to close out a game earlier in the weekend. Marks said he’d be willing to get back on the starting rubber, and Saturday’s performance could help him achieve that.

“[Marks] really gave us an opportunity to settle down a little bit because the first two games we were playing from behind and playing from behind early,” Dominguez said.

Marks’ start was a needed one with the Braves’ staff being ravaged by injuries. The team has six pitchers on the IL but none bigger than preseason ace Jacob Kisting, whose injury before the season began forced Edders into the role as Friday’s starter. Both him and Lutz have been Bradley’s most consistent starters and have helped the team compete with such a depleted staff.

“He’s going up against everybody else’s ace and become a bonafide number one,” Dominguez said about Edders. “Made a couple mistakes, but overall he’s been pretty consistent on the mound for us every Friday evening. At least gives us a chance to win right off the bat.”

The Braves will take on Lindenwood tonight and then Indiana State this weekend, the No. 1 seed in the Valley and defending conference champions who made the Super Regionals last season. O’Brien hopes his team can stay consistent and build off their last performance against the Bears, putting the shutouts behind them.

“As a team, once we put runs together we really string them together, so that’s good, but when we’re kind of struggling to get runs across we gotta stick with it, we can’t be riding a low,” O’Brien said. “[We] gotta stay off the scoreboard and stick to our approach.”

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