WICHITA, Kan. -- Cameron Roegner threw the best game of his Bradley career and Spencer Gaa scored the deciding run from second base on a third-strike wild pitch, lifting the third-seeded Braves (35-18) to a 3-1 win against second-seeded Dallas Baptist, ranked 12th in the nation, on Friday night in the Missouri Valley Conference Baseball Championship Bracket A final at Eck Stadium.
Bradley has won its first three games in the MVC tournament for just the second time in program history (1971) and the Braves have advanced to the championship game for the first time since 1996.
A fourth-year junior, Roegner had never thrown more than 6.2 innings in his Bradley career and his longest outing of the 2015 season was a six-inning performance March 8 to beat Quinnipiac. Roegner needed just 96 pitches in 8.0 innings Friday and improved to 4-0 by limiting the high-powered Dallas Baptist attack to one run on five hits. Although he walked three and did not strike out a batter, the Patriots struggled to make solid contact after the second inning.
DBU's final threat came in the fourth inning when the Patriots got consecutive one-out singles, but Roegner got Nash Knight to hit into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning and allowed only one more single the rest of the night. Closer Matt Dennis, who worked 3.0 innings Thursday in Bradley's 5-4 comeback win against Indiana State, retired the Patriots in order in the ninth to earn his 12th save of the season.
Bradley leadoff hitter Chris Godinez was 3-for-4 with two doubles Friday and jump-started the Braves by drilling Dalton Higgins' second pitch of the game into the left field corner for a leadoff double. Godinez took third on an Isaac Smith bunt and scored on Gaa's high-hopping ground out to short, giving the Braves a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
The Patriots failed to duplicate the effort in the bottom of the first after Drew Turbin's leadoff double, but pulled even in the second after Tagg Duce hit a leadoff two-bagger of his own. Duce went to third on a Knight ground out and scored on a David Martinelli sacrifice fly.
Bradley took the lead for good in the fourth in unlikely fashion. Gaa led off the inning with a sharp single to center field and advanced to second on an Elliot Ashbeck groundout, that actually was a defensive gem by Patriots first baseman Chane Lynch, who dove onto the bag to spear Ashbeck's hot shot on a hit-and-run play, likely robbing Ashbeck of a extra bases and a RBI.
Paul Solka followed and struck out on a Higgins slider in the dirt, but the ball caromed away from catcher Daniel Salters. With Salters forced to chase the ball down about 20 feet from the plate to complete the out with a throw to first base, Gaa raced home and beat the DBU catcher to the plate with a head first slide for a 2-1 Bradley lead.
The Braves picked up an insurance run when the Patriots elected to pitch to Godinez with two outs and first base open in the fifth. Already 2-for-2 in the game and eight for his past 12 against the Patriots, Godinez came through with a RBI double to left center field to plate Tyler Leffler for the 3-1 advantage.