Bradley's Bircher Hands Bears First MVC Setback, 2-1
April 6, 2012
PEORIA, Ill. - Bradley's Joe Bircher struck out a career-high 12 hitters in a complete-game, 2-1 victory over the Missouri State Bears in game one of the two clubs' Missouri Valley Conference series at O'Brien Field. The Braves capitalized on a pair of MSU errors to build a two-run lead that Bircher would hold by retiring 11 of the last 12 batters of the contest to tag the Bears with their first MVC loss of the season.
Bircher (4-1) emerged victorious in a duel of two of the Valley's top pitchers, with MSU's Nick Petree (6-2) also working a complete game and extending his streak of consecutive innings without allowing an earned run to 38.0 over a span of five starts. Despite giving up just five hits over eight innings in a game that took just 1:57 to complete, Petree saw his run of six-straight wins come to an end with his second one-run loss of the season.
Bradley jumped on top 1-0 in the first, taking advantage of a two-out error after Chris Godinez and Rob Elliott began the frame with back-to-back singles. MSU catcher Luke Voit gunned down Godinez attempting to steal third, and Mike Tauchman rolled out to second for out number two. But Petree issued a four-pitch walk to Greg Partyka to extend the inning, and Max Murphy's grounder to short rolled up the arm of Eric Cheray to allow Elliott to trot home with the game's first run.
Petree beaned Jason Leblebijian with the very next pitch to load the bases, but managed to avoid further damage with a strikeout of Bob Schuch to end the inning.
Bircher, meanwhile, was strong from the onset, allowing a one-out bunt single to Kevin Medrano in the first, but nothing else in facing the minimum through three innings. The senior left-hander's first three-plus innings would foreshadow the conclusion of the game, as he sat down 10 of the Bears' first 12 hitters. He would retire nine-straight batters before a two-out error in the fourth gave the Bears their first scoring opportunity. After Bircher fanned Medrano for his sixth strikeout of the evening, Brent Seifert bounced to short for what appeared to be the final out of the inning, but Leblebijian's throw sailed over the head of Jerrod Eigsti at first to give MSU life. Voit followed with a base hit to right-center to put runners at first and second, but Bircher worked out of the jam by getting Keenen Maddox to line out to second.
The Bears would load the bases in the fifth on three infield singles, but Bircher would once again escape unscathed. With one out, Brock Chaffin beat out a chopper to second and Cheray laid down a two-out bunt single and Spiker Helms reached on a well-placed grounder deep in the hole at short. But Bircher struck out Medrano for the second consecutive time--this time looking--to preserve the BU lead.
The Braves once again jumped on a Missouri State error to put another run on the board in their half of the fifth. Seifert's throw to first on an Elliott grounder was off target, forcing Chaffin off the bag, and Tauchman reached on a bunt single to put runners on the corners with nobody out. Partyka then came through with a sacrifice fly to center to bring in what would prove to be the winning run.
Voit would finally put the Bears on the board with one out in the sixth with a long home run that cleared the berm in left field to make it a 2-1 game.
That would be all the offense MSU would get, however, as Bircher retired the next nine batters before a one-out Maddox single in the ninth. Trey Massenberg's bunt moved pinch runner Patrick Drake into scoring position, but Bircher closed out the victory by getting Joey Hawkins on a fly to left.
With his 2-for-4 night, Voit led the Missouri State attack, which out-hit the Braves by a 7-5 margin. Godinez paced BU's offense with two hits and a walk in four trips to the plate.
The Bears (23-9, 3-1 MVC) and Braves (15-11-1, 2-2 MVC) resume their series Saturday with a 2 p.m. contest, before wrapping up the three-game set Sunday at 1 p.m.