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With MVC Tournament approaching, Braves take care of business at Valparaiso

Connor O’Brien swings at a pitch on Wednesday against Iowa. Photo by Jonathan Michel

With just one three-game set left for the Braves baseball team (18-26, 9-9), a crucial series victory over Valparaiso this past weekend has the team making strides at the right time.

Now winners of four of their last five conference series, the Braves took two of three from the Beacons with a 2-0 blanking as the clincher Sunday afternoon.

Bradley outlasted the Beacons in game one on Friday with a 7-6 victory in which they scored in each of the first five innings.

Jumping out to a 5-0 lead, junior Connor O’Brien and sophomore Carson Husmann used the long ball to help Bradley start the weekend strong. However, freshman pitcher Jacob Kisting faced some trouble in the third as an RBI double and wild pitch helped plate three for the home Beacons.

Bradley would send two more home, giving them a 7-3 advantage after five, but a late charge gave the Beacons hope. A solo shot in the ninth put Valparaiso within one, but they couldn’t complete the comeback as Bradley took the first game by a 7-6 final.

Seeking revenge the following afternoon, Valparaiso responded strongly, drubbing the Braves to a tune of 8-2 and tying the series at one a piece.

In the loss, Bradley totaled just four hits and committed three errors. The team’s runs came on a two-run homer from junior Connor Manthey, but it was not enough to help the Braves escape an eight-run hole.

During the rubber match on Sunday, Bradley got the action started with a pair of RBI singles, taking a 2-0 lead in the second that Valparaiso would not surpass.

Senior Nick King was to credit for the shutout victory, as his eight innings of five-hit ball gave the Beacons little to chew on. Despite his three walks, the seven punchouts he threw gave the Braves all the help that they needed from the mound. Senior Troy Hickey slammed the door in the ninth for the save, and the series clincher.

With the MVC Championship approaching on Tuesday, seeding is on the line, and a final home series with Missouri State can help determine where Bradley finishes. Currently sitting in fourth, the Braves can climb as high as third, but can fall as low as sixth.

For the former to happen, the Braves would need to claim two of three from the Bears and would need Dallas Baptist – the current third place team – to drop two of three on the road at Indiana State. That would put the Patriots and Braves in a tie, but because the Braves won the three-game set earlier in the season, they’d be given the tiebreaker.

Even with a third-place finish on the line, a drop to sixth has to be in the back of the Braves’ heads as well. If Bradley were to drop two in this upcoming series, they’d leave the door open for Indiana State (one game behind the Braves) and Missouri State (two games behind) to climb past.

A crucial series indeed is on the docket for Bradley, but no matter the seeding, the MVC Championship Tuesday will provide a steep hill for the Braves to climb. The conference leaders, Southern Illinois (38-13, 14-4) and Evansville (29-20, 13-5), have been sharp as of late.

Bradley started MVC play this year by dropping two of three with the Salukis, despite plating 14 runs in the series versus SIU’s 13. Meanwhile, a sweep at the hands of the Purple Aces was not ideal for the Braves.

If the Braves want to catch fire in Springfield, they’ll have to clamp down a couple of holes in their attack.

For one, the Braves have been plagued by errors all year. Committing 54 miscues over the course of the season – second most in the MVC – head coach Elvis Dominguez will need to emphasize playing cleaner baseball going forward.

In addition to the errors, the pitching has been all-or-nothing. With 78 walks, the Braves have issued the most free passes in the conference and it’s been a big culprit in losses. Not only do the free passes put runners in scoring position, but they increase the pitch count which, is the last thing the team needs with an already short staff due to injuries.

Cleaner defense, better performances on the pitching side like King’s this past Sunday and continued offensive production will all be key come Tuesday if Bradley hopes to be the last team standing.

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