PEORIA, Ill. – Bradley senior forward Jochen Graf (Double Oak, Texas/Faustina Academy) netted a pair of goals, lifting the 25th-ranked Braves (1-0-0) to a 2-0 victory against Eastern Illinois (0-1-0) in the season-opener for both teams Friday night at Shea Stadium.
Sparked by Graf’s first career multi-goal game, Bradley won its 11th consecutive season-opener and improved to 6-0-0 all-time at Shea Stadium against the Panthers. The Braves are 14-8-2 all-time against their in-state rivals, including a 14-2-2 record since the start of the 1998 season.
The visitors looked intent on changing that history early on, outshooting the Braves 5-0 in the opening 12 minutes. Junior goalkeeper Brian Billings (Apple Valley, Minn./Shattuck-St. Mary’s School) saved two of those first five shots, then needed to make just one more second-half save to record his 10th career shutout.
After withstanding EIU’s early pressure, Bradley took to the offensive and rattled off the game’s next five shots. Graf broke through in the 32nd minute, when he executed a give-and-go with junior forward Wojciech Wojcik, rifling a low laser from the top of the 18 into the back of the net.
While the first-half shot count finished even at 6-6, Bradley doubled up the Panthers with a 12-6 advantage in the second half. Both teams had goals waved off by offsides calls in the second period, before Bradley finally put the game away with just 10 seconds remaining, thanks again to the Wojcik-Graf combination.
Wojcik started the scoring sequence by taking the ball from near midfield and working his way down the far sideline. Recognizing Graf drifting alone toward the far post, Wojcik opted to attack instead of heading to the corner. His service found Graf’s chest and the senior striker collected, took a touch to his left and beat EIU keeper Evan Turner with a shot into the upper left corner.
Bradley head coach Jim DeRose, who is starting his 17th season with the Braves, did not hesitate to put his young players into action right out of the chute. Including starting assignments by three freshmen – Andrew Brown, Joe Morales and Jason Lesch – seven first-year Braves saw action Friday night.
Bradley will continue its season-opening, 4-game home stand Sunday when the Braves welcome Western Michigan for a 3 p.m. kickoff at Shea Stadium. All 2012 Central Illinois Soccer Academy campers and Bradley clinic participants who have registered with the Braves marketing department will receive free admission to Sunday’s game and the first 1,000 fans will receive free thunder sticks. Admission for Bradley Soccer regular-season home games is $6 for adults, $3 for children (K-12) and free for Bradley University students, faculty and staff, as well as active members of the military and their immediate family, all with valid identification.