PEORIA, Ill. - After breezing through eight near-flawless innings, Bradley lefty Joe Bircher found himself in a jam in the ninth inning against conference rival, Creighton (16-23, 3-12 MVC) Friday night at O'Brien Field.
An error followed by a walk, put two runners on with nobody out and inspired a visit from Bradley skipper Elvis Dominguez. Bircher thought his night was over. With the Braves leading 3-0, and senior reliever Danny Gifford warmed-up in the bullpen, Dominguez made no signals calling for a switch.
"I just wanted to go out there and settle him down," said Dominguez, whose trips out to the rubber typically mean a pitching change.
It worked. After allowing a sharp single to left for Creighton's first run of the game, center fielder Mike Gerber line-out hard to right. Bircher then got designated hitter Scott Thornburg to pop-out to Jason Leblebijian at short. Leblejian beat Creighton's catcher, Anthony Bemboom, back to second base as he caught the ball for a game-ending double play. With that, the Braves ended the threat and Bircher secured his fourth complete game of the season.
"It was reassuring they had faith in me," said Bircher, seeming relieved after the game that his coach allowed him to stay in.
For Bircher and his teammates, it was a typical Friday night. Bradley's ace is now 7-1 on the season and did not allow an earned run against Creighton, lowering his ERA to 2.11. In his last five games, Bircher is 4-0 in with a 1.10 ERA, has struck-out 43 batters, allowed only eight walks and opponents are only batting .170 against him.
Bircher struck out nine Friday, raising his season total to 99 strikeouts. He entered the game seventh in the nation in that category and his current total puts him in a tie-for-fifth on Bradley's all-time single-season strikeout lists with Gary Fischer, who fell one shy of the century mark in 1963.
Overshadowed by the Braves' ace was fellow southpaw, Ty Blach, who went the distance for the Bluejays, allowing only three runs and six hits.
Second baseman Chris Godinez continued his impressive freshman campaign and provided the Braves the only runs they would need. After David Compitello reached on an infield single, Godinez put a rare-mistake by Blach over-the-wall in left center. Godinez leads the team with a .375 average, a .437 on-base percentage and nine stolen bases. His 3rd-inning blast was his fourth home run of the season and earned him his 14th and 15th RBI's.
Compitello, in just his tenth start of the season, provided the only multi-hit effort for Bradley. The Braves' third basemen recorded a pair of singles and a stolen base, raising his average to .372 on the season.
The win helped Bradley (25-17-1, 8-8 MVC) jump idle Evansville and Wichita State, which dropped a 1-0 decision at Indiana State Friday, into fourth place in The Valley standings.
The teams will resume their series with a 2 p.m. game Saturday and it will be Little Braves Club and Boy Scout Day at O'Brien Field. Little Braves Club members will receive free admission for themselves and up to three guests by wearing their club t-shirt and presenting their club ID at the gate. Boy Scouts in uniform will receive $1 admission and activities on the concourse will include poster making and tie-dying. Several area mascots, including Wolfie (104.9 FM) and Homer (Peoria Chiefs), will entertain fans throughout the game.
Senior right-hander Justin Ziegler (3-4, 5.47 ERA) will take the mound for the Braves, while Creighton will counter with fellow senior righty Erik Mattingly (0-3, 2.43 ERA).