The Jackets dropped the middle game of the 2018 Atlanta Challenge to the Bradley Braves in perfect baseball weather on Saturday afternoon. The two teams, in their first ever matchup, played much different baseball than they had the previous afternoon, as Tech had beaten Minnesota 3-2 at Russ Chandler and Bradley, of Peoria, Illinois, fell to Georgia State 3-1 in their game.
Bradley returns eight starters and has seen much prior success playing on the road and in neutral site games, as any reasonably successful team from the northern tier of the country must do. If you’ve never heard of Bradley University, they have seen their biggest success on the hardwood, with four NIT titles from the tournament’s heyday and two NCAA Tournament championship game appearances. They are perhaps most famous for being the losing team in the 1950 NCAA Tournament, that of the infamous CCNY point-shaving scandal.
Bradley struck first against Tech’s starting pitcher Johnathon Hughes. Hughes, who made eight starts, going 1-2, with a 5.68 ERA last season, allowed just that single run in his two frames on two hits. However, and his command was spotty. He walked four and yielded a run-scoring wild pitch, leading to the early hook.
In the bottom of the second inning, however, Tech struck back, taking their first lead of the game off of a strong three-run rally, all of which game after two men were out. Tristan English, who started at first base and would later move to the mound in his first pitching appearance for the Jackets, led off the inning by getting plunked by Bradley starter Mitch Janssen. Freshman Luke Waddell scored two Tech runners with a clean double to left-center field, and later came around to score himself. After two innings, Tech led 3-1.
Bradley answered with two runs of their own in the top of the third. Will Shirah, whose command was just as suspect as Hughes, walked two batters and hit another to load the bases before the Jackets crumpled with a two-base error by Wade Bailey, who threw it past Joey Bart into the first base dugout. Two runs scored, but Shirah got out of the jam with a groundout to Bailey.
Again, Tech responded quickly, with two more runs in the bottom of the third. After a lead-off hit by pitch for Bart, English hit a rocket into the trees beyond the right field fence, and the Jackets were back on top 5-3. Tech’s three outs were all on solid contact to the outfield.
Shirah pitched a solid fourth, and Tech went down meekly in their own half of the frame, before Bradley tied the game yet again in the fifth. Shirah, who was eventually responsible for four Braves runs, sandwiched two strikeouts between a single and two walks. After he was pulled, Junior Robert Winborne promptly yielded a two-run single, which tied the game. However, Waddell, Bailey, and Austin Wilhite caught Bradley catcher Keaton Rice in a rundown, and he was thrown out on the base paths for the third out.
In the seventh inning, the Braves took their first lead off of a two-run Rawlinson home run. With Bradley leading 7-5, Ben Schneiderjans walked Rice after a long at bat. English, who did everything Saturday afternoon after missing all of 2017 due to injury, was brought in to keep the deficit just two runs. The former highly-touted pitching prospect did just that in the seventh. In their half, Bart added a Tech run with a solo home run to center field. In the eighth inning, English wasn’t quite so lucky, leading to two more Bradley runs. They added another in the top of the ninth.
Entering the bottom of the ninth down four runs, Tech was not done quite yet. Bailey, the experienced second baseman, led off with a deep double. He eventually scored off of a Bart single, his second hit and second RBI of the game. After Kyle McCann walked, Austin Wilhite, representing the tying run, grounded out to short to end the rally and fall 10-7 to the visiting Bradley Braves.
After the loss, Tech sits at 1-1 both on the year and in Atlanta Challenge play. The Jackets look to bounce back against Connecticut Sunday afternoon. Meanwhile, Bradley heads up to Kennesaw State to finish off their swing to the South and head back to the frozen cornfields of the Illinois Valley. Tech owns a 7-2 all-time record against the visiting Huskies, most recently splitting two games in the 2016 Gainesville Regional in postseason play. First pitch is slated for 1:00 PM at Russ Chandler Field.