HINCKLEY – Cory Bradburn never would have experienced milestone athletic moments had he followed doctor’s orders.
Three years ago, the senior pitcher on the Hinckley-Big Rock baseball team was struck in the head by a line drive while pitching post-game batting practice at his house on the eve of a game with Somonauk.
Bradburn had a brain hemorrhage, his skull fractured in three places and no hearing in his right ear. After 13 nights in a Rockford hospital – and a series of grim prognoses – Bradburn was told to not play baseball until at least college, if ever again.
It was a seminal moment.
Bradburn couldn’t live without the game. The memory of the incident that nearly cost him his life lingers in the recesses of his mind. But new memories, like the one from Wednesday when Bradburn threw his first prep no-hitter in a 4-0 victory against Paw Paw, or playing an instrumental role in the Little Ten Conference title H-BR claimed in 2011, take precedence.
“Baseball is the thing I love most,” Bradburn said. “What happened when I was a freshman is in the back of my head and pops up every now and then. Even if I followed doctor’s orders, I’d still be there in the dugout and want to be part of the team. I’d still be on the bench.”
Ever since Bradburn returned for his sophomore season, he hasn’t spent much time on the bench. He’s anchored in as the Royals’ No. 2 hitter this season and has a .354 batting average and .506 on-base percentage.
With 20 walks and 25 runs, Bradburn has kept pressure on opposing defense and provided H-BR No. 3 hitter Mitch Ruh with plenty of RBI opportunities.
“Cory is a very patient hitter that knows the strike zone,” H-BR coach Matt Olson said. “He wears out pitchers because he makes them throw more pitches. He knows with Mitch Ruh right behind him his job is to set the table. The two of them are a pretty mean duo.
“To go from being told he would never play again to bounce all the way back to where he’s at is impressive. I know it was a huge adjustment for him the first year back, but right now he’s playing so well, it’s like he never lost anything.”
During Bradburn’s prep career, the Royals have ascended to the top of the Little Ten. As much as he was focused on returning to baseball in spite of medical advice, Bradburn carries an equal desire to ensure H-BR surmounts perennial Little Ten contender Somonauk as the nine-team conference’s team to beat.
From the injury that ended his freshman season prematurely to a shared conference title with Somonauk in 2011 to the Bobcats’ eventual playoff elimination of the Royals, everything seems to revolve around Somonauk.
This year is no exception.
H-BR was 1-1 against Somonauk in Little Ten play, and another split conference title appears imminent. As does a potential Class 1A H-BR Regional final rematch.
“It’s always about a chance to play Somonauk,” Bradburn said. “We’ve got a great rivalry. They are certainly the measuring stick we use to gauge success. We hope we can play them again in the regional final if we both get there. We know we can’t make any mistakes because they’ll capitalize on it. We’ve got to have a fine-tuned offense and defense.”
The opportunity to prepare for Somonauk showdowns drives Bradburn, who even revs up his game in summer league action if he’s facing a Bobcats player.
Like his freshman year injury, the Bobcats are always in the back of his mind.