PEORIA, Ill. - Junior Joe Bircher (Omaha, Neb./Roncalli Catholic) gave up just one unearned run in seven innings and Bradley scored four unearned runs of its own to top Western Illinois 6-1 in the first of a three-game series Friday night at O'Brien Field.
Bradley (16-7 overall) struck first, pushing a run across in the bottom of the second. Junior Brad Kimball (Naperville, Ill./Neuqua Valley) led off the inning with since to right center and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and groundout. Freshman Derek Sprout (Chillicothe, Ill./Illinois Valley Central) drove in Kimball from third with a two-out single up the middle to give the Braves an early 1-0 lead.
Western Illinois (5-18 overall) tied the game at 1-1 with a bases loaded sacrifice fly in the top of the third inning, but the Braves got the run back in the bottom half of the inning. Sophomore Bob Schuch (Evergreen Park, Ill./Brother Rice) walked to lead off the inning and scored when sophomore Mike Tauchman (Palatine, Ill./William Fremd) reached on an error to put Bradley back in front 2-1.
Senior Brian Martin (Glen Ellyn, Ill./Montini Catholic/College of DuPage) and junior Rob Elliott (Naperville, Ill./Neuqua Valley) each pushed their hit streaks to eight games with consecutive one-out singles in the fifth and Martin came around to score on a single off the bat of Tauchman, who drove in his team-leading 16th run of the year.
After giving up the run in the third on the sacrifice fly, Bircher settled down and retired the next 10 batters he faced.
The Braves added three insurance runs in the bottom of the seventh to push the lead to 6-1. Martin drew a one-out walk and stole second before Tauchman was intentionally walked to put runners at first and second with two outs. Bradley scored two runs when Kimball reached on an error and junior Jerrod Eigsti (Eureka, Ill./Eureka/Des Moines Area C.C.) plated Kimball with a single to right.
Bircher scattered five hits over seven innings and gave up one unearned run in the victory to improve to 4-2 on the season. Junior Danny Gifford (Highland, Ill./Highland/Wabash Valley College) relieved Bircher and pitched two scoreless innings to close out the win.
Dan Russell suffered the loss for the Leathernecks, giving up six runs (two earned) on six hits. Russell (3-2) struck out two and walked four in 6.2 innings.
Bradley and Western Illinois continue the three-game series Saturday with a 2 p.m. game at O'Brien Field.