PEORIA, Ill. - Bradley left-hander Joe Bircher (Omaha, Neb./Roncalli Catholic H.S.) started Friday night's game versus Missouri State (23-9, 3-1) tied for fourth on the Braves all-time career strikeout list. By the end of the night, the senior had added 12 more to the list and now stands alone in third with 257 career strikeouts.
Bircher helped Bradley (15-11-1, 1-2) match its season-high 4-game win streak by going nine innings; allowing only seven hits, one run and no walks. The win was the sixth career complete game for Bircher (4-1, 2.65 ERA), who began this week ranked seventh in the nation with 56 strikeouts.
Missouri State right-hander Nick Petree was 5-0 with a 0.24 ERA in the month of March and went into the game leading the Missouri Valley Conference in wins (6) and ERA (1.06).
The game was set-up to be a pitcher's dual: Bircher and Petree did not disappoint. Combined, the two offenses managed only one earned run and twelve hits. The two starters both went the distance and combined for 17 innings; notching 18 strikeouts and only allowing three walks.
"Anytime both your starters can go out there and compete it is fun," said Bradley head coach Elvis Dominguez. "As a baseball fan, how do you not love watching that? It was a battle of wits, like two competitors in a 15-round boxing match."
Bircher was quick to point to his teammates as the reason behind his strong outing.
"Mostly, I have to give credit to the guys on the field," said Bircher. "Missouri State was swinging, there were a lot of plays in the field."
Bircher downplayed his move up the all-time strikeout ladder, calling it a "secondary concern. The number one concern is getting wins. First and foremost I just want to help my team win."
Braves third baseman Rob Elliott returned after missing the previous eight games with a hamstring injury, and the senior scored the only two runs for the Braves. Elliot tested his hamstring early, laying a bunt down the third base line for an infield single in the bottom of the first.
Second baseman Chris Godinez, who was 2-for-3 and walked once in his four plate appearances, opened the bottom of the first with a soft liner into right center field. After Elliott bunted safely, Godinez was thrown out at third on a failed hit-and-run attempt. Elliott took second on the play, though, then advanced to third on a Mike Tauchman ground out and scored when MSU shortstop Eric Cheray could not handle Greg Partyka's ground ball.
Bradley pushed the lead to 2-0 in the fifth after Elliott reached on an error, took second on a wild pitch, advanced to third on a Tauchman bunt single and scored on a Partyka sacrifice fly. Despite missing eight games, Elliott continues to lead the Braves with 24 runs scored in 19 contests this season.
Though he gave up a sixth-inning home run to Bears catcher Luke Voit, the two runs were all Bircher didn't needed. He allowed only one more hit the rest of the game, retiring 11 of the final MSU hitters of the game.
The teams will resume their 3-game Valley series with a 2 p.m. game Saturday at O'Brien Field. Saturday's game is Faculty/Staff Appreciation Day and Bradley University faculty and staff are eligible to receive four free tickets to the game by presenting valid identification at the ticket window.
The Braves will send senior right-hander Justin Ziegler (2-2, 5.74 ERA) to the mound against Missouri State senior right-hander Clay Murphy (4-1, 1.59 ERA).