CARBONDALE — Mother Nature limited SIU and Bradley to less than three innings Thursday night, and might not be too forgiving today.
The Salukis (25-27, 8-10 Missouri Valley Conference) and Braves (29-15, 10-8) played 2 1/2 innings at Jones Stadium before a lightning delay. Faced with a closing window for their opening night starters for next week's Valley tournament in Dallas, the two teams closed the door on Bradley's 3-2 lead in light of a noon doubleheader today. The two teams will resume play with SIU's Logan Blackfan on first base and two outs in the bottom of the third, and attempt to get Game 2 in against a messy forecast.
"Both of us had to get new pitchers, and we didn't want to burn another guy," SIU coach Ken Henderson said. "I think we both looked at it that we did the right thing, because we both got three innings out of them, and now, we're in the same boat (today) because the weather looks terrible. There is about a 50 or 60-percent chance of rain all day."
The Valley tournament, a double-elimination event hosted by Dallas Baptist, begins Wednesday. SIU's Michael Baird and Bradley's Cole Cook, Thursday night's starters, both could take the hill in their teams' respective openers. The rest of this week's series could throw off both teams' rotations at the most important games of the year.
Lefty Brad Harrison (5-5, 4.65 ERa) and right-hander Dylan Givens (4-2, 3.40 ERA), SIU's projected starters for games 2 and 3, may both have to pitch today, but if rain knocks the doubleheader out, the Salukis might have to weigh turning the series into a bullpen affair in order to save their most valuable arms. Unfortunately, the series is pivotal for both teams in terms of seeding.
With three conference games to play/finish, SIU can finish anywhere from third to seventh place. Bradley is almost assured of third place, starting the week two games up on fourth-place SIU and Indiana State, but could finish as low as fifth if the Braves get swept and Indiana State sweeps Valparaiso.
Bradley jumped on the Salukis before they got a chance to bat off three hits, an error and a passed ball. Luke Shadid singled to lead off and made it to second when left fielder Kenton Crawford bobbled the ball. He went to third on his older brother Andy's ground out to first, and came home on a passed ball by Austin Ulick.
The Braves went up 3-0 a lot quicker. Baird walked Luke Mangieri on a close 3-2 pitch that was called high, and Derek Bangert homered to left-center field.
SIU got one back in the bottom half of the first and got within a run in the third. Blackfan doubled to right off the wall and scored when Alex Lyon poked Cook's pitch up the middle. Connor Kopach's fifth homer of the season pulled the Salukis within a run in the third.