SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Bradley senior pitcher Michael Christl, a second-team All-Missouri Valley Conference pick, threw eight strong innings and was aided by an early offensive outburst and four double plays from his defense as the third-seeded Braves (31-19) opened the 2007 MVC Tournament with an 8-4 win against defending champion and fourth seed Evansville (34-22) Wednesday afternoon at Hammmons Field.
Following Creighton’s 8-5 win against Southern Illinois in Wednesday’s tournament opener, the Braves and Bluejays will match up in the final game of Thursday’s second round, scheduled for 7 p.m. at Hammons Field. While Creighton (41-13) owns the title of The Valley’s hottest team with 22 wins in its last 24 games, Bradley now has won 16-of-20 since being swept in the three-game regular-season series between the two teams April 13-15 in Omaha. Creighton won those three games by a total of five runs to drop the Braves to 2-7 in league play.
Evansville threatened to score in the first inning by loading the bases with one out, but right fielder Colby Luttrell kept the Aces off the board by gunning down Robbie Minor at the plate after catching Kirk Bacsu’s fly ball in shallow right. Luttrell leads Bradley’s outfielders with eight assists this season.
Bradley grabbed the early lead in the second when Justin Carr beat out an infield single then scored on Peter Malinowski’s first home run of the season. The line drive down the left field line was the first homer of the season surrendered by Evansville starter Kai Tuomi. Shortstop Dan Brewer then led off the bottom of the third with a rocket to left center for his team-leading ninth homer of the year, giving the Braves a 3-1 lead.
Brewer was the first of six straight Braves to reach base safely to open the bottom of the third. Paul Rice followed with a walk and Curry hit a sinking line drive into right field that Jeff Zelenovich couldn’t handle, allowing Curry to extend his hitting streak to 21 games. Ryan Eigsti dropped down a perfect bunt to load the bases with no outs. Carr lined a 2-run single to left centerfield and Malinowski followed with a run-scoring double into the left field corner. After Mike McMillan popped out for the inning’s first out, Luttrell chased Tuomi with a single through the right side to plate Carr for a 7-1 Bradley lead.
After Mark Murray relieved Tuomi, Brad Jones greeted the new hurler with a squeeze bunt on his first offering to push the lead to 8-1. Murray appeared to get out of the inning when he got Brewer to hit a two-hopper to third base, but Andy Smith’s throw to first was in the dirt and Wahl was unable to scoop it out. Rice then drew his second walk of the inning to once again load the bases, but Curry flew out to left field to end Bradley’s biggest inning against a Valley rival this season.
Tuomi (10-3), a first-team All-MVC selection with a 2.12 earned run average entering the tournament, won 10 of his first 11 decisions to become the nation’s first lefthander to win 10 games this year. But after suffering a hard-luck loss in Bradley’s 3-2 win May 11 at O’Brien Field, the Braves roughed him up for eight runs on nine hits in his 2.1 innings Wednesday. Murray kept the Braves offense in check the rest of the game, however, limiting Bradley to two hits the rest of the way.
In between Bradley’s early run-scoring innings, Evansville pushed across a run in the top of the third to temporarily pull within 2-1. Jim Viscomi led off the inning with a walk and went to second on a Minor walk. After Kasey Wahl was hit by a pitch, Pat Tumilty singled through the right side of the infield and Viscomi just beat out Luttrell’s throw home. The Aces pulled to within 8-2 on Smith’s first home run of the year, a two-out, solo shot to left in the fourth, then continued to chip away by adding another run in the sixth. Left fielder Kern Watts led off the sixth with a triple off the center field wall and scored on Zelenovich’s single through the right side to pull within 8-3, but Christl got Smith to ground into an inning-ending double play to limit the damage.
The Aces continued to crawl back into the game by starting the seventh with three straight hits, the third an RBI single by Wahl to pull Evansville within 8-4, but ran itself out of a potential bigger inning by committing the same baserunning mistake on consecutive plays. The Braves nearly got a double play when Tumility hit a grounder to Rice at third base. Minor got caught in a rundown between third and home, but when Wahl tried to go to third during the rundown, Rice nearly tagged both players out. Bascu followed with another grounder to Rice, who caught Wahl in another rundown between third and home. This time, Rice tagged out Wahl then threw to second in attempt to catch Bascu. Curry opted to throw home, however, where Christl tagged out Tumilty for the inning-ending double play.
BRADLEY TOURNAMENT NOTES: Bradley is the only team to beat Evansville in the MVC Tournament the last two years. Last season, the Braves knocked off the regular-season champion Aces, 6-3, in the opening round, but Evansville fought back to win the double-elimination tournament ... In last year's first-round win, Bradley also scored six runs in the third inning ... Wednesday’s win against Evansville was Bradley’s first postseason victory outside of Wichita State’s Eck Stadium since 1977, ending an overall six-game tournament skid away from Wichita ... Bradley also had lost 10 consecutive tournament games in odd-numbered years, dating back to a first-round win against Missouri State in 1991 ... With his third-inning single, Ryan Curry extended his hitting streak to 21 games, matching Southern Illinois catcher Mark Kelly and Wichita State second baseman Damon Sublett for the longest hitting streak in The Valley this season ... In Michael Christl’s last appearance at Hammons Field April 6, he allowed five runs on seven hits in 5.0 innings of a 9-3 loss to Missouri State to fall to 1-4 on the season. Since that outing, however, Christl is 5-2 in his last seven starts and has pitched into the eighth inning of all seven games.