PEORIA, Ill. - Freshman first baseman Derek Sprout hit his first career home run and junior right-hander Justin Ziegler set the school single-season saves record as Bradley (18-8) rallied for a 7-4 victory against Illinois (9-13) Tuesday night at O'Brien Field.
By overcoming a 3-0, first-inning deficit, the Braves beat their third Big Ten Conference opponent of the season (Bradley beat Indiana March 6 in Knoxville, Tenn., and Purdue March 25 at O'Brien Field). Bradley had not beaten three different Big Ten teams in the same season since 1984 (Michigan, Purdue and Illinois.
The Illini roughed up Bradley starter Tory Doerr for three runs in the first inning, but after surrendering seven hits to the first 11 batters he faced, the junior left-hander settled down and allowed the Braves to rally. With one out and the bases loaded in the top of the second, Doerr induced an inning-ending ground ball double play, the first of seven consecutive Illinois batters retired.
With Doerr holding the Illini in check, the Braves began their rally by scoring one in the home half of the third on a Rob Elliott sacrifice fly. While Illinois starter Matt Milroy limited the Braves to one run on five hits in his 4.0 innings, Bradley completed its comeback against the Illini bullpen.
Bill Barrett took the mound to start the fifth and gave up a leadoff walk to Bradley centerfielder Brian Martin. Left fielder Mike Tauchman reached on a rare catcher's interference and after both runners advanced on a wild pitch, they came in to score on second baseman Jerrod Eigsti's 2-out, game-tying single.
Sprout gave the Braves their first lead, 4-3, in the sixth inning when he launched leadoff home run to left field.
The Illini got the run back in the eighth against Bradley setup man Danny Gifford (3-1), but the steady right-hander left the go-ahead run at second base by getting a pop out and strikeout to end the eighth.
Luke Joyce (0-1), who entered in the sixth inning, started Bradley's game-winning rally in the bottom of the eighth by giving up a 1-out walk to Bob Schuch. Martin followed with a bunt single and Elliott walked to load the bases. Wes Braun relieved Joyce, but uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Schuch to score the go-ahead run. After striking out Tauchman, Braun walked Brad Kimball to again load the bases. He appeared to escape the jam without further damage when he got Eigsti to hit a comebacker, but his throw to first sailed into the photographer well, allowing Martin and Elliott to score the insurance runs.
Ziegler, who had not recorded a save in either of his first two seasons, retired the Illini in order in the ninth to pick up his eighth save of the season to claim the school single-season record outright. He also moved to within two saves of the school career record (10), set by Jason Simmons from 1990-93.
Bradley, which completed its 5-game home stand with a 4-1 record, will return to action Wednesday with a 3:30 p.m. game at Northern Illinois. The Braves will start Missouri Valley Conference play with a 3-game series this weekend at Indiana State, beginning with a 6 p.m. (CST) game Friday in Terre Haute.