Bradley starting pitcher Elliot Ashbeck was dealing, center fielder Isaac Smith was diving and the Braves’ bats did the rest of the work as they opened up the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament with a 9-2 victory over No. 6 seed Evansville on Wednesday morning at Eck Stadium.
“Always important to win that first game and set the tone,” Ashbeck said. “I had a pretty clean first inning and just tried to fill up the zone after we got a big lead. It feels good to get that first win out of the way and not have to play at 9 a.m. tomorrow.”
Bradley (33-18), the No. 3 seed, will face the Dallas Baptist-Indiana State winner at 4 p.m. Thursday. Evansville (29-23) will face the Dallas Baptist-Indiana State loser at 9 a.m. Thursday.
Ashbeck picked up the win, going eight innings while giving up five hits, two earned runs and striking out six. Smith delivered two highlight-reel, inning-ending catches in the fourth and fifth innings. Smith laid out for both grabs, belly-flopping across the Shocker logo in center field for the first and then did a catch, dive and tumble for the second.
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“I just saw the ball off the bat and they stayed up long enough with the wind,” Smith said. “I’m sure it looked pretty cool from the stands, but I was just doing what I had to do.”
The Braves went up 4-0 in the second on RBI singles from Tyler Leffler and Chris Godinez, then ended the inning with two more runs on an RBI triple from Smith. Bradley added five more runs in the fourth, including a two-RBI single from Spencer Gaa to start the scoring. Bradley’s 14 hits tied a season high.
“We didn’t like getting up too early today,” Smith said. “But we were swinging the bats well and then we brought it in the field. Things ended up well.”
Evansville’s only runs came on a two-run home run by MVC Player of the Year Kevin Kaczmarski in the eighth.
2 6 0
9 14 1
W – Ashbeck. L – Harkness. HR – Evansville, Kaczmarski.