PEORIA, Ill. -- Bradley junior pitcher Joe Bircher (Omaha, Neb./Roncalli Catholic H.S.) made quick work of the Southern Illinois (17-28, 7-6 MVC) lineup, allowing only two hits in his first career shutout while leading the Braves (21-22, 3-10 MVC) to a 9-0 victory in the opening game of the weekend Missouri Valley Conference series Friday night at O'Brien Field.
Bircher (6-4) faced only one hitter more than the minimum and did not allow a runner past first base. The 6-foot-4 left-hander struck out seven and did not walk a batter, lowering his earned run average to 2.18. Despite Bradley's 9-run outburst, the game took only 1-hour and 45-minutes to complete.
The Braves got all the offense they needed in the second inning by loading the bases with no outs on a walk and two bunt singles. Derek Sprout's high-hopper to third resulted in a double play, but brought home Brad Kimball with the game's first run. Catcher James Kottaras got the game's first hit to the outfield by lining an RBI single to right center for a 2-0 lead.
Junior third baseman Rob Elliott made a little history to help the Braves push the lead to 3-0 in the third inning. Elliott led off with a single to left, stole second, advanced to third on a Jason Leblebijian sacrifice bunt and scored on a Mike Tauchman sacrifice fly. Elliott's stolen base was his 25th of the season, making him just the third player in school history to swipe at least 25 bases in a season. Chris Allison stole 28 bases in 1994 and newly-appointed federal judge Jim Shadid set the Bradley benchmark with 30 steals in 1977.
Bradley broke the game open by sending 11 men to the plate during a 6-run sixth inning. Brian Martin had a 2-run single to start the scoring, Kottaras had a 2-run double, Bob Schuch had an RBI fielder's choice and Leblebijian finished the binge with a 2-run single.
Southern Illinois shortstop Jake Welch led off the top of the sixth with a single, but Bircher induced a double play ground ball and retired the final 11 Saluki hitters in order. Catcher Brian Bajer had SIU's only other hit in the game, a 2-out single in the third.
The teams will complete their weekend series with noon games both Saturday and Sunday at O'Brien Field. Junior left-hander Tory Doerr (2-2) is expected to start Saturday's game for the Braves.