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Mist muddles baseball as losing streak is extended

Bradley players gather around the mound with head Coach Elvis Dominquez. Photo courtesy of Bradley Athletics.

Reeling from a nine-game losing streak, Bradley baseball headed into the bottom of the seventh against SIUE on Tuesday with a 3-0 lead, close to picking up their first win since April 6.

Then, as if the baseball gods were conspiring against them, the fog rolled in and the tide turned.

A dense haze clouded Roy E. Lee Field in Edwardsville, seeping its way onto the diamond and making errorless plays next to impossible. In the ensuing inning, the Cougars’ Ryan Niedzwiedz hit a home run to make it 3-1, Daniel Gierer hit an RBI single to make it 3-2, and a catchable ball that was dropped in the outfield led to the tying run crossing the plate.

Without that fog causing problems defensively, head coach Elvis Dominguez thinks the Braves could’ve gotten over the hump. Instead, the game ended in a tie, and the evil baseball gods added another tally in their favor. 

“We just can’t get over the hump. I think you hit the nail on the head there,” Dominguez said. “It’s frustrating at times, I know our guys are frustrated, but we just can’t seem to do anything right. We’re expecting things to go wrong rather than just proceeding as normal.”

This year, over a third of Bradley’s team has been bitten by the injury bug, including most of the pitching staff. Additionally, weather cancellations have thrown off the rotation and squashed any momentum the team has tried to build.

“It’s the season of ‘24,” Dominguez said. “Anything that could go wrong has gone wrong for us, whether it’s injuries, whether it’s performance, it’s just a little bit of everything.”

Because of the injuries, typical Friday starter Noah Edders took the mound to start on Tuesday in a bullpen game. The right-handed sophomore ended up turning in one of his better performances of the season, tossing three shutout innings. Junior Jack Stellano followed suit as the duo combined to give up just two hits on the day.

As much as Dominguez would’ve loved to stretch Edders and Stellano out for a few more innings to close out the game, he knew he needed to save them for the upcoming weekend. Such is life when you’re dealing with such a depleted staff.

“It is what it is,” Dominguez said. “When you get into these kind of ruts, you just keep battling and you just gotta keep grinding and grinding and grinding.”

Offensively, sophomore Beau Durbin did the heavy lifting, hitting RBI doubles in the third and seventh innings to plate all three runs for the Braves. With his 2-for-4 day, Durbin upped his team-leading batting average to .366 on the year.

Braves get their ace back

Before Mother Nature called in a favor against SIUE, Bradley went to Dozer Park to take on the Purple Aces in a series over the weekend. They went 0-3, but Saturday’s game featured a welcome sight.

Junior Jacob Kisting took the mound in the sixth inning, the only inning he’s been able to pitch this year. Kisting was named the third-best prospect in the Missouri Valley Conference before the season, but was one of many Braves pitchers who fell victim to injury. Dominguez and the rest of the coaching staff were discussing redshirting the right-hander, but Dominguez says Kisting made the decision to get out there and pitch for his teammates.

Junior Jacon Kisting winds up for a strike. Photo courtesy of Bradley Athletics.

And, in typical Kisting fashion, he allowed no runs and struck out two.

“Having a presence like that, when you know you got your ace on the mound, it does something mentally for our guys,” Dominguez said.

Going forward, Dominguez says he wants to ramp Kisting up more by potentially pitching him for the first two innings on Friday, eventually easing him into becoming the Friday starter again towards the end of the season.

Dominguez is glad to have him back, but it also goes to show the turmoil Bradley has gone through with their arms.

“It’s great,” Dominguez said. “He’s our ace, and he’s supposed to be pitching in February, and here we are at the end of April and he gets one inning in.”

Kisting’s performance wasn’t enough to put Bradley back in the win column, as a four-run fourth inning helped Evansville win the series on Saturday 6-1. Junior Travis Lutz went five innings, striking out five but allowing five runs, including a three-run homer to Mark Shallenberger to cap off that four-run frame.

Seemingly, the only Brave to get going at the plate was senior Logan Delgado, whose 2-for-3 day was highlighted by a run in the bottom of the fourth that served as Bradley’s only score of the game. The top three of Bradley’s lineup, who have combined for nearly 40% of the team’s hits this season, went 0-for-12 with five strikeouts.

Coming up empty

The top three got their revenge on Sunday, as senior Ryan Vogel, Durbin and junior Timmy O’Brien combined for five of Bradley’s seven hits on the day and were responsible for the only two RBIs. 

Yet, it was those lack of other hits, as well as another lackluster start, that caused the Braves to fall 7-2 and suffer a sweep.

“We couldn’t pitch,” Dominguez said. “We didn’t get timely hitting as well, but we just didn’t pitch when we needed to pitch.”

“Again, it’s nobody’s fault, it’s just a matter of we don’t have the depth right now to be able to make some moves as a manager, as a coach, as a team,” Dominguez added. “You just don’t have the bodies.”

Bradley took a 2-1 lead in the second inning after Vogel’s fielder’s choice scored freshman Isaac Sobieszczyk, but a wild pitch from Braves starter Brayden Marks allowed Evansville to tie it up. The Aces took the lead that same inning on a sacrifice fly from B.J. Peart.

Two innings later, Peart struck again, singling home two runners to make it 5-2. Another sacrifice fly plated another Ace, and another multi-run inning was in the books for Bradley’s opponent.

“A couple of those [multi-run innings] are dealt with free bases,” Dominguez said. “A walk here, a wild pitch there, an error, it just compounded itself. We just have to play clean baseball.”

Marks took the loss on Sunday after giving up five earned and walking four in five innings. He also tallied two wild pitches and two hit-by-pitches, an issue that also plagued Bradley in Friday’s loss.

Right away, Evansville took a 3-0 lead on back-to-back doubles and a Bradley error in the first. The Braves were able to get one back on an O’Brien homer, but the Aces went on to score six runs in the third to make it 9-1.

In their best attempt at a comeback, Bradley rallied to score four runs in the sixth on singles from Delgado and Sobieszczyk and a double from junior Cole Luckey. They followed that up with two more in the seventh, as O’Brien homered again and junior Michael Mylott doubled home Delgado to make the score 9-7.

Bradley tallied 12 hits, their most of the weekend, but the early deficit proved to be too much to overcome.

“I’m trying to stay as positive as I can with them and they’re trying to do the same thing, but you just get beat down all the time,” Dominguez said.

The Braves will now look to snap their losing streak against Belmont, a team in the midst of a four-game skid. According to Dominguez, the key to beating the slump will be finding the guy who can strike.

“We need somebody to step up, whether it’s on the mound, whether it’s at the plate, whether it’s a defensive play,” Dominguez said. “We need somebody to kind of spark it.”

Overall, a year filled with lows has led to a last-place finish for the Braves with just four conference series to go in the regular season. The silver lining is that the young guys get to develop faster, and the sky’s the limit from here.

“We’ll be fine,” Dominguez said. “The wins and losses obviously don’t dictate it, but I think we’ll look back on it and go, ‘boy we are better because we went through this.’”

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