Injured Braves battle to draw

With just two regular season games remaining, the Bradley soccer team earned a draw 1-1 in non-conference action at Western Illinois Tuesday night.

The series against the Leathernecks has always been a competitive one with 12 of the last 13 games between the in-state rivals being decided by just one goal.

Junior Keegan Balle put the Braves on the board first with a 25-yard boot in the 17th minute. It was Balle’s sixth goal of the year tying him for the team lead with senior Jochen Graf.

“We played every player that was available on our roster,” coach Jim DeRose said. “It’s one of those games we would have liked to have the win. We certainly had our opportunities to do it. I’m disappointed we didn’t get it, but at the same token we had incurred some injuries. We really just wanted to spread the minutes out and we missed some critical chances.”

Bradley was facing a quick turn around after playing at No. 17 Creighton on Saturday, just three days prior to it’s matchup with Western Illinois. The team didn’t arrive home until 5 a.m. Sunday morning.

The Braves lost a hard fought match to the Bluejays 1-0 on an early disputed penalty kick.

“We really played quite well,” DeRose said. “We outshot Creighton on the road and forced their keeper to make seven saves… we hit the post twice in the second half. We competed well and we just didn’t get it. They’re a great team.”

Bradley has faced adversity all season with several tops players including Graf missing time due to injuries. As the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament draws near, DeRose said he believes the depth developed with key guys out could be a difference maker.

“We’ve had as many as six freshmen on the field at one time,” he said. “That is going to help us once we get into the postseason. We’ve gotten Jochen back. He’s only been able to play 15 or 20 minutes a game, but it has given us that attacking dimension.”

DeRose said Graf will likely not be 100 percent this season.

“I think he’ll probably be a max of a 40 minute a game player,” he said. “It’s an injury that’s not going to get better. He would need four to six weeks for it to heal. He’s a senior, he’ll get through it. But the nice thing about when he has been on the field, he can make a difference in that time frame.”

Bradley’s next game is Wednesday night at Loyola before returning home at 7 p.m. Saturday in Shea Stadium for the final game of the regular season against Central Arkansas.