CARBONDALE — The SIU baseball team hosts Bradley in a pivotal three-game series to end the regular season.
The Salukis (25-27, 8-10 Missouri Valley Conference) can finish anywhere from third to seventh place, depending on how they fare against the third-place Braves (26-22, 10-8) beginning tonight at 6:30 p.m. Bradley can't finish any higher than third behind MVC leaders Missouri State (33-14, 16-2) and Dallas Baptist (35-15, 15-3), who battle in Dallas for the regular-season title. The Bears are going for their first back-to-back, regular-season titles since joining the Valley in 1991.
SIU has dropped six straight games after Tuesday's loss at Saint Louis in its final mid-week contest of the season. The Salukis are tied for fifth in hitting in the Valley with a .269 average. Their 296 runs rank seventh out of eight teams in the league.
Behind senior right-hander Michael Baird (5-4, 2.80 ERA), SIU's team ERA of 4.92 ranks fifth in the Valley. Baird, who leads the league in ERA and innings (90), has won two of his last three starts and has a 1.44 ERA in his last six outings.
Bradley, the nation's fourth-most improved team from last season, is tied with Dallas Baptist for the Valley's top batting average (.290) and average 7.05 runs a game. The Braves have scored 310 runs this year, the third-most in the Valley. Bradley's team ERA (4.53) ranks fourth in the league.
SIU will honor its eight seniors prior to Saturday's 2 p.m. start in the regular-season finale, Hunter Anderson, Baird, Logan Blackfan, Drew Curtis, Connor Kopach, Allen Montgomery, Ryan Netemeyer and Jamison Steege. The Salukis and Braves are playing Thursday through Saturday because the MVC tournament begins Wednesday in Dallas.
Blackfan, SIU's all-time leader in doubles, leads the Valley with 56 RBIs. Netemeyer leads the league with nine saves this year and has the second-most in league history (37) over his career.