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“One of those weekends you’d like to forget”: Top-ranked Sycamores blowout Braves baseball

Bradley baseball players Tyrese Johnson and Ryan Vogel huddle with their teammates during a game against Indiana State on April 14, 2024 in Terre Haute, Indiana. Photo courtesy of Bradley Athletics.

It was not a pretty weekend for Bradley baseball (10-22, 4-8 MVC) against first-place Indiana State, as they dropped all three games by an average of 11 runs and didn’t make it to the ninth inning in any of them.

Ranked eighth in the country by D1Baseball’s RPI, Indiana State took advantage of a depleted Braves squad by scoring 42 runs over the weekend, sweeping Bradley in a trio of run-rule decisions in Terre Haute. A year removed from an appearance in the NCAA Super Regionals, Indiana State continues their reign atop the conference while Bradley fights to stay out of last place.

“They got three, four quality arms, a great bullpen and they were able to hold us down whenever we had an opportunity,” Bradley head coach Elvis Dominguez said. “They were able to come through, get a strikeout or get a pop-up or something. We just couldn’t get anything going offensively either all weekend.”

Bradley’s starting pitchers were the same as they’ve been all year on Friday and Saturday, with redshirt sophomore Noah Edders getting the call for game one and junior Travis Lutz on the bump for game two. The duo combined to give up 17 earned on 24 hits, with the former turning in his shortest start of the season at 3.1 innings.

Sunday was another chance to see Brayden Marks, the sophomore right hander who shut down Missouri State in five innings to lead Bradley to a win a week earlier. This time out, he only completed one inning after giving up five runs on four hits.

The Braves’ staff has the highest ERA in the MVC this season with seven pitchers on the injured list, and while Dominguez doesn’t blame all of it on injuries, it’s hard not to think about what adding seven healthy arms could do to his group.

“When you don’t have those kinds of guys that you’re counting on, it obviously puts a burden and strain on everybody else and it’s been that way since the beginning of the year,” Dominguez said. “No excuses, but at the same time you wish you had your full team with you.”

Game one’s rout ended 14-2, starting with a Luis Hernandez three-run homer in the first before Bradley could record an out. The Sycamores continued it in the second, scoring two more on an RBI single from Randal Diaz and an error by Braves’ freshman Isaac Sobieszczyk. Back-to-back doubles scored two more in the fourth, but Bradley got those runs back after senior Ryan Vogel homered in the fifth, tying a team lead with four on the year.

Junior Jack Stellano relieved Edders in the fourth and had the best outing of the Braves that day, giving up two runs on five hits and two walks in 3.1 innings. After he loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh, sophomore Theo Zeidler came in and threw a couple wild pitches that allowed another run to score, the start of a nightmare outing for the right hander.

Zeidler allowed a double to Grant Magill to score two more Sycamore runs in the eighth. Following a four-pitch walk, Diaz deposited one to the left-center field seats to enact the mercy rule for the home team.

“First couple innings was just a regular ball game, but then we didn’t make a play in the outfield – ball that probably should’ve been caught – and all of a sudden it just started building up and before you knew it…You have to be almost perfect and we [weren’t], we made a couple mistakes and then they exploited it,” Dominguez said.

Saturday’s game didn’t bode well for the Braves, either. Back-to-back two-out homers from Adam Pottinger and Mike Sears put Indiana State up 4-0 in the first, starting another onslaught that ended in an 11-1 Sycamore win. Senior Jackson Chatterton provided the only spark for Bradley, hitting his third homer of the year out to center field in the third.

A Diaz double pushed the home team’s lead out to 8-1 in the bottom of the third, then another Hernandez homer made it 9-1. In the sixth, the Sycamores scored two more times to put a wrap on their 14th consecutive MVC series win and second consecutive mercy ruling. Sycamore starter Brennyn Cutts went all seven innings, striking out six.

“They scored [eight] runs with two outs. It just wasn’t acceptable for us,” Dominguez said. “We didn’t pitch it very well to begin with but at the same time they’re a quality program.”

Bradley also went down big in game three, trailing 7-0 by the third inning. This time, however, they didn’t back down, and in the top of the seventh sophomore Beau Durbin hit a two-out grand slam to cut the lead to three. The next pitch, junior Timmy O’Brien hit one out to left to cut the lead to two.

The next inning, junior Tyrese Johnson got in on the fun, homering to left center to bring the Braves’ deficit to one and put them within striking distance of the first-place Sycamores. All of Bradley’s runs came on homers last weekend, an unusual sight for a team that is dead last in the category among the conference.

“All weekend long it was very, very windy,” Dominguez said. “We’re not a home run hitting ballclub by any means, and I think neither are they, but when you’re playing in an element like that any ball that goes up has a chance to go out and it did.”

The comeback was short-lived, as Pottinger took a page out of Durbin’s book and hit a grand slam in the bottom of the eighth off a two-strike pitch from Stellano. That was followed by a passed ball scoring Sears and a walk scoring Joe Kido once sophomore Nick Hainline took over on the mound, culminating in a grand slam for Hernandez to give him three homers and 11 RBIs on the weekend.

The Braves let up 10 runs on four hits in the eighth, losing 17-6 and suffering a third straight run-rule defeat.

“There’s a reason they’re ranked eighth in the country right now,” Dominguez said. “You always have your hands full, you gotta play perfect when you go up against them ‘cuz every mistake that you make they will exploit.”

“It was really one of those weekends you’d like to forget, but at the same time it’s a measuring stick for where you want to be,” Dominguez added.

Bradley will now head into a couple of mid-week games scrambling to find availability. With 10 players on the injured list, the Braves have been forced to play young guys in big spots and start guys that wouldn’t normally get starts. Especially on the pitching side, things have been difficult for Dominguez to control.

“You don’t wanna tax a lot of the guys that you’ll need for the weekend but at the same time we gotta just take it one game at a time and hopefully we can get a productive outing from our starter,” Dominguez said.

The Braves take the field Tuesday against Eastern Illinois and Wednesday against Iowa, hoping they can avoid the injury bug and shake off a weekend filled with disappointing results.

“It’s just been one of those years,” Dominguez said. “As a coach you just try to stay positive and just gotta keep plugging along. This is a lot like life, it’s not easy and you just gotta get up the next day, tie your shoes and go play.”

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