BUCKLEY — Asher Bradd didn’t know quite what to expect from the Eastern Illinois Baseball League before he joined the Royal Giants, one of the summer wood-bat organization’s teams, ahead of a 2020 season condensed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was pretty cool,” the 2019 Monticello graduate said. “I didn’t really know what the experience would be like coming into the league because I had just heard from a couple other guys that it was a lot of fun, but you have to be there to experience what it’s really like.”
Bradd’s first foray into E.I. League play couldn’t have gone much better, all things considered.
The Ralph Loschen Award winner as the league’s most outstanding player drove in two runs and scored twice himself Sunday as Royal wrapped up an undefeated season with a 6-2 victory over Buckley in Game 2 of the championship series.
A tiebreaking third game wasn’t required, with the Giants (9-0) topping the Dutch Masters (5-4) by a 3-1 margin in Saturday’s opener at Scheiwe Field.
“We had such a good regular season, although shortened, and we wanted to just stay clean and sweep the tournament,” Royal coach Tim Dillman said. “It’s nicer to say you went undefeated than you just won the championship.”
Buckley delivered a strong punch to begin Sunday’s game in front of what league secretary Trent Eshleman called “a nearly record crowd” for the 85th tournament’s second day.
Nick Walker hit a two-run home run off Evan Wilson to provide the Dutch Masters a 2-0 cushion.
“I didn’t even have to say anything to them,” Dillman said. “They came running in and said, ‘Hey, it’s early. Two runs aren’t going to beat us.’”
Bradd proved as much by taking the first pitch from Buckley’s Andy Davis and turning into into a triple, scoring a short time later on Champaign Central product Cole Jones’ sacrifice fly.
Bradd then poked a broken-bat two-run single with two outs in the second inning as part of a four-run frame. From there, St. Joseph-Ogden alumnus Adam Crites and fellow relief pitcher Jesse Remington, a Rantoul graduate, shut the door on the Dutch Masters.
“We brought a lot of fans, too, so it was a good atmosphere,” Bradd said. “The Buckley fans were pretty quiet all weekend because they didn’t have much to cheer for.”
Bradd certainly did. In addition to helping Royal secure its second championship in three seasons, he also was part of a Normal CornBelters team that on Sunday won the Kernels Collegiate League title — though Bradd didn’t turn around to play in Normal during that season’s last day.
And Dillman had plenty to be excited about as well, even beyond the unblemished record and championship effort his squad collected.
“Just playing baseball, these kids, that’s all they’ve done since probably they were playing (youth) travel ball,” Dillman said. “(And the fans) were all just thankful we got to play.”