A team doesn't win a share of the regular-season title by doing just one thing well. It helps, however, when it can do one thing really, really well.
That is the case for second-seeded Illinois State, which counts a devastating two-man combo in its bullpen as its prime asset.
Lefties Ryan Copeland and Kenny Long, the All-Missouri Valley Conference relievers, will loom over every game the Redbirds play this week.
"Our job was to try to get out early," Bradley coach Elvis Dominguez said after Tuesday's 3-0 loss to the Redbirds. "The reason they've had such a a great year, and were co-champions of the league, is because of those two guys."
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Copeland, a senior, closed out Tuesday's game with two perfect innings. He struck out three and needed only 25 pitches.
"We would like to get more than three runs, but when you can shut out the other team, three runs is enough," Illinois State coach Mark Kingston said. "That's what we're all about."
Copeland started the season as a starter and struggled. He moved to the bullpen in mid-April and it turned him into a force. In 37 relief innings, he is 3-1 with a 1.46 ERA and three saves. He has struck out 45 and walked five. Long, a sophomore, is 4-3 with a 1.56 ERA and eight saves, six in MVC games.
"It's a great advantage to have to know that you've got to play, basically, five innings, six innings and any time they've got a lead you get to see those two," Dominguez said.
Wichita State is one of the few teams with success against them. The Shockers, who feast on left-handers, scored all five runs against them in a 5-1 win on May 2. Long, who allowed 21 hits and six earned runs in 14 MVC appearances, gave up five hits and two earned runs in three innings.
Plenty of offense — Creighton scored seven or more runs six times in 21 MVC games. So when they scored seven in Tuesday's opener — against All-MVC pitcher Jake Petricka of Indiana State — it thrilled coach Ed Servais.
Unfortunately, a team built on defense, pitching and scrapping for runs gave up eight in a 10-inning loss.
"That's got to be enough to win," Creighton coach Ed Servais said. "If you had told me last night we were going to score seven runs off that kind of kid, with the stuff he had, I'd have said 'Hey, we'll take it.' Our team is built around scoring five or six runs and keeping the opposition down."
Slow start — Everybody knew the risks when the tournament format scheduled four games in one day.
That leaves a lot of room for disaster. Of course, it rained Tuesday morning, delaying the scheduled 9 a.m. start of the Indiana State-Creighton game by 70 minutes.
Then the game went extra innings and didn't end until around 1:50 p.m.
"It's not an easy thing to get up at 5:30 and come out here for (batting practice) and sit around for three hours and try to get ready to play," Indiana State coach Rick Heller said. "It really takes you out of your routine."
That knocked the day off schedule.
The second game, scheduled for 12:30 p.m., started at 2:19. The third game, scheduled for 4 p.m., started at 5:40. The final game, matching top-seeded Wichita State and eighth-seeded Missouri State, went off at 9:40, more than two hours after its planned time.
Dry enough — Eck Stadium's artificial turf did its part to keep things running smoothly. After the morning rain, it dried quickly and conditions didn't affect the game.
"It actually wasn't as bad as I thought it would be," Indiana State shortstop Ben Ferrell said. "After the third inning, it pretty much was dry. It actually soaked up the rain a lot better than I thought."
Both Creighton and Indiana State played their first game on the turf at WSU. Both play and practice on turf at home.
"By the time some groundballs were hit, it was dry," Creighton second baseman Alex Staehely said. "It played fine. We play on turf every day in practice. You understand the ball is going to skip more."
We don't know — Evansville's pitching plan for tonight is fluid, and could include one of the three relievers who threw on Tuesday.
Starter Keegan Dennis, who threw 103 pitches, joked he could be ready. Hopefully not, but everybody else is on call.
"We're always to be determined after our No. 1," Aces coach Wes Carroll said. "We're going to see how some people feel, and see who the matchup is."
Evansville's five-run ninth saved Carroll from using senior closer Tom Heithoff, who has 10 saves.
"That means we're going to be able to stretch him out (tonight), if we need to," Carroll said. "I like really like what the back end of our bullpen can do."
Injury report — A bad back took Creighton shortstop Elliot Soto out of the game after the sixth inning. Servais said he did not expect Soto to play today.
* Bradley is without first baseman Mike McMillan, sidelined with a dislocated shoulder. McMillan hit .354 for the Braves and was named to the All-MVC second team.
Indiana State 8, Creighton 7 (10 innings) —Former Hutchinson Community College shortstop Ben Ferrell punched a hit over the drawn-in infield to give third-seeded Indiana State its first tournament win since 2005.
The Sycamores (34-17) rallied from a 5-1 deficit to win their first tournament opener since 2002. Starter Jake Petricka gave up four runs in the second inning before settling down. He went eight innings, throwing 133 pitches, with 10 strikeouts.
Alex Staehely homered for Creighton (26-24).
Creighton140 001 010 0 — 7 10 2 Indiana State101 104 000 1 — 8 16 0
One out when winning run scored.
Dufek, Patterson (6), Lackovic (6), Winkelman (8) and Vitale; Petricka, Harlan (9) and Graham. W — Harlan (4-3). L — Winkelman (2-3). HR — Creighton: Staehely (5).
Illinois State 3, Bradley 0 — Redbirds starter Corey Maines and Ryan Copeland combined on a five-hitter.
Maines struck out four and walked one, allowing all five hits.
Anthony Ruffolo drove in two runs for the Redbirds (28-22).
Brian Martin had two hits for Bradley (20-31), which lost its 10 consecutive game at Eck Stadium and its sixth straight tournament opener.
Illinois State last won its opener in 1999.
Bradley000 000 000 — 0 5 0 Illinois State001 000 20x — 3 11 0
Cooper, Ziegler (7) and Sullivan; Maines, Copeland (8) and Mirabal. W — Maines (6-3). L — Cooper (5-4). Save — Copeland (3).
Evansville 11, Southern Illinois 5 — The fifth-seeded Aces hit four home runs to rout fourth-seeded SIU.
Cody Fick hit two, his 18th and 19th of the season, and drove in four runs. Greg Wallace also drove in four. Alex Acheson hit his first homer of the season to start a five-run ninth inning.
The Aces (31-25) powered up in the fifth inning against starter Nathan Forer. After two singles, Wallace smacked a two-out triple off the wall in center for a 2-0 lead. Fick's 18th home run made it 4-0.
Brian Bajer's two-out single cut the lead to 4-2 for SIU (28-28) in the sixth.
Evansville000 040 115 — 11 15 0 Southern Illinois000 002 201 — 5 10 2
Dennis, Taylor (6), Davisson (7), Naumann (9) and Day; Forer, Weld (7), George (9), Snyder (9) and Bajer. W — Dennis (4-3). L — Forer (3-4). HR — Evansville: Fick 2 (19), Copeland (4), Acheson (1).