Lefty Ethan Bradford anchoring Free State staff during final season
photo by: Carter Gaskins/Journal-World photos
Ethan Bradford can still picture how nervous he was when he stepped on the mound.
Bradford, who has been a lifelong fan of Nebraska because his family is from there, has always dreamed of pitching for the Cornhuskers at the collegiate level. So when Bradford got the opportunity to pitch in a camp at Nebraska last July, the Free State hurler was determined to make the most of it.
Once he got comfortable, it was business as usual for the talented southpaw.
“I was nervous at first,” Bradford said. “I got really comfortable throwing on the mound and I just tried to do what I do best — throw strikes.”
Bradford showed something in that tryout, and went up for an official visit one week later. It wasn’t long before Nebraska offered him a scholarship while he was in the car with his mom, who gave him a big hug.
In August, Bradford verbally committed to the first program that gave him an offer. Bradford eventually signed his national letter of intent, fulfilling a goal he’s had his entire baseball career.
“The thing I love about him the most is that he hates to lose,” FSHS coach Mike Hill said. “That’s not a quality a whole lot of kids have. He’s willing to do anything to be successful and he’s a highly-competitive kid.”
But the idea of pitching at the next level, much less Bradford’s dream school, wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for his growth last offseason.
Halfway through last summer is when Bradford started to throw harder on a more consistent basis. In just two short months, Bradford went from a velocity in the low 80s to sitting more in the high 80s. And that’s a credit to the work he put in off the diamond.
Bradford ate a lot of protein, such as chicken and peanut butter sandwiches, to help put on weight. He also started to train at Evolution Athletics, a sport performance facility located in Lawrence, right after his junior season ended. Bradford said he has added 15 pounds to his frame since last spring.
“I didn’t know anything about weights going in there eight months ago and they have helped me become a lot stronger,” Bradford said.
It has made a difference this season. Bradford is throwing his fastball harder, though it has some late life to confuse opposing hitters. Bradford also has a strong curveball and nasty slider in his repertoire.
This spring, Bradford has been the go-to option on a talented pitching staff. The Firebirds (16-3, No. 1 in Class 6A) have used him as a starter and a reliever. Bradford has a 5-1 record with a .467 ERA in 45 total innings of work. He’s also struck out 58 batters and walked just 17, notching one save as well.
Most of all, he’s served as role model for a pitching staff that features a pair of talented juniors in the starting rotation.
“He’s been an anchor for us,” Hill said. “His leadership as a senior has been really important to our success. There is no question about that.”