WATERLOO, Iowa – Pinch-hitter Jason Acevedo scored the tying run with a ninth-inning double, senior Peter Malinowski drove home the winning run in the 10th and sophomore pitcher Collin Brennan (3-5) allowed just one hit and struck out seven in four innings of relief, leading Bradley (30-18, 13-10) to a 4-3 victory in 10 innings at Northern Iowa (22-28, 7-16) Friday night at Riverfront Stadium.
With the win, the Braves locked up the third seed in next week’s Missouri Valley Conference Tournament at Missouri State and secured their first 30-win season since 1996 (40-22). By guaranteering at least a third place tie in the final league standings, Bradley earned its best regular-season finish in The Valley since a similar third-place spot in 1993 (40-16, 13-7).
Bradley’s pitching staff gained some added depth for the tournament with Brennan’s first appearance since he was forced to come out of Bradley’s 7-4 win against
The Panthers did all of their scoring with two outs in the fourth inning. Eric Hoffman started the rally with a single through the right side and Dane Embury reached on an error to extend the frame. Brett Featherstone followed with a double to left field and Nick Cameron followed with a 2-run single through the left side for a 3-0 UNI lead.
Bradley got one run back in the sixth inning when senior second baseman Ryan Curry, who entered the game leading The Valley with a .432 batting average, extended his hitting streak to 19 games by driving home Brad Jones with a 2-out single to left field.
That was the only damage done against UNI starter Nick Kirk, who allowed the lone run on six hits while striking out nine in his 8.0 innings of work.
The Panthers went to the bullpen to start the ninth and Curry started Bradley’s ninth-inning rally with a leadoff single against Boone Bugger. Justin Carr followed with a single to center field, putting runners at first and third with no outs. Malinowski greeted UNI’s third pitcher, Jason Barry, with a sacrifice fly to pull the Braves within 3-2 and Ryan Eigsti walked to put runners at first and second with one out. After made its third pitching change of the inning, Acevedo brought Carr home with his double to left field against Bryan Westphal.
Brennan worked himself in and out of trouble in the bottom of the ninth by striking out Eric Hoffman to open the frame, walking Embury, striking out Featherston and hitting Cameron with a pitch before getting pinch-hitter Jeremy Weih to fly out to end the ninth.
Bradley third baseman Paul Rice opened the 10th inning with a single, and after Curry moved him to second with a ground ball and Carr was intentionally walked, Malinowski came through with a single to left to plate Rice with the winning run. Brennan then struck out the side in the bottom of the 10th to end the game.
The two teams will close out the regular season with a 2 p.m. game Saturday at Riverfront Stadium. The Braves then will open the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament at 3 p.m. Wednesday against the defending champion and fourth-seeded