NORMAL, Ill. - Bradley scored in six of the seven innings and put up six runs in the seventh inning to cut short its series-opener at Interstate 74 rival Illinois State 20-14, 2-7 MVC, downing the Redbirds 13-2 Friday night at Duffy Bass Field.
The Braves (20-14-1, 5-5 MVC) banged out 16 hits in support of ace left-hander Joe Bircher, who improved to 5-1 on the season with his second complete-game effort of the year. Bircher overcame a rough start to earn his third win in his last four starts and move into a tie for seventh in school history with his 19th career win. The senior lefty scattered five hits, did not walk a batter and struck out six to push his Bradley school record to 270 career strikeouts.
The bottom two hitters in the Bradley order, Jerrod Eigsti and Curtiss Bunch, entered the game with a collective .207 batting average, but the corner infielders each went 3-for-4 and totaled three runs. Designated hitter Greg Partyka added three hits with a double and two runs batted in and freshman center fielder Max Murphy was 1-for-3 with a walk and a home run and four RBI's.
The Braves took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Partyka drove home left fielder Mike Tauchman with a double into left field, but the Redbirds fired right back in the home half of the first by loading the bases with one out against Bircher. Kevin Tokarski flirted with a grand slam, but Tauchman caught his high fly ball up against the wall for a game-tying sacrifice fly.
Bradley used a 1-out error and back-to-back singles by Eigsti and Bunch to load the bases for the top of the order in the top of the second and the Braves regained the lead, 2-1, when Chris Godinez grounded out to short. Redbirds starter Chris Razo prevented any further damage by getting Tauchman to bounce into a comebacker.
Illinois State again had the answer in the home half of the second after Matt Mirabal led off with a high fly ball that turned into a triple when Braves right fielder Bob Schuch fell down while racking the ball to the line. Kyle Stanton followed with Illinois State's second sacrifice fly in as many innings to again forge a tie, 2-2.
The back-and-forth action continued in the third after shortstop Jason Leblebijian led off with a single, stole second and scored on Murphy's seventh home run of the season for a 4-2 Bradley lead.
After Bircher ended the scoring streak by facing the minimum in the bottom of the third, aided by Jarvis, who threw out Ty Wiesemeyer trying to steal second to end the inning, Bradley put the pressure on again in the fourth when Bunch singled and Godinez walked to open the frame. After Tauchman moved the runners with a sacrifice, Leblebijian brought both runners home with his team-leading 12th double of the season for a 6-2 lead.
Bradley put runners on second with one out in both the fifth and sixth innings, but after coming up empty in the fifth, the Braves pushed a seventh run across in the sixth when Tauchman drew a leadoff walk, took second on a Leblebijian sacrifice, third on a Partyka infield single and scored on a Murphy fielder's choice ground ball to short.
After Johnny Lieske relieved Razo to start the seventh, Shuch greeted the righty with a double, reached third on an Eigsti infield single and scored on a wild pitch. Bunch followed with a single to right and Eigsti scored when Eric Aguilera's throw home bounced away from the catcher. The Braves put runners on the corners with no outs when Godinez walked on a fourth ball wild pitch and Tauchman pushed the lead to 10-2 with a line drive single to center.
Bradley built its 10-run cushion when Partyka lined an RBI single into right field that scooted under Aguilera's glove, allowing Tauchman to come around all the way from first while the Braves designated hitter cruised into third. Murphy made it 13-2 when he lofted a sacrifice fly to left field.
NOTES: With a home run and a walk Friday, Murphy has been on base in every game this season and he extended his hitting streak to eight games ... The game was shortened due to the MVC's 10-run rule after seven innings, the first time Bradley has been on the winning side of the rule since a 12-2 win in eight innings at Illinois State May 3, 2008 ... Entering this weekend's round of league action, the team that has won the opening game of a Valley series has gone on to win the series in 12-of-13 opportunities ... In Bradley's previous seven Valley series, the Game 1 winner has won seven series in a row.