Game 5: Evansville vs. Indiana State — 9:00 a.m. Wednesday
Game 7: Illinois State vs. Creighton — 4:00 p.m. Wednesday
Game 9: Game 7 loser vs. Game 5 winner
Game 11: Game 7 winner vs. Game 9 winner
Game 13: (If necessary)
Game 6: Wichita State vs. Missouri State — 12:30 p.m. Wednesday
Game 8: Southern Illinois vs. Bradley — 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Game 10: Game 8 loser vs. Game 6 winner
Game 12: Game 8 winner vs. Game 10 winner
Game 14: (If necessary)
Championship Game: 7:00 p.m. Saturday
Underdogs intent on disrupting both brackets at the Missouri Valley Conference baseball tournament succeeded Tuesday. Second-seeded Missouri State, host to this year’s tournament, lost the opening day’s nightcap to seventh-seeded Bradley. A few hours before the Bears lost, third-seeded Wichita State lost to sixth-seeded Southern Illinois. And Creighton joined the act, as well, knocking off the top-seeded Indiana State Sycamores.
CU starter Ty Blach stifled the Sycamore hitters, allowing only a second inning single and two walks while throwing a complete game shutout. It was a perfect time for Blach’s first conference win of the season, as his dominating performance put the Bluejays into the winner’s half of Bracket A. CU will be the home team against #4 Illinois State Wednesday afternoon at 4:00 p.m.
Blach retired 18 straight batters from the third through ninth innings. He has thrown 27.1 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run; during those 27-plus innings, he’s surrendered just 10 hits and three walks. Ed Servais didn’t have to think of dipping into his bullpen, an important development considering Creighton’s only chance of repeating last year’s trip to the NCAA tournament is to win the Valley title this week in Springfield. With a stable of rested arms, that possibility, although faint, remains attainable.
In our preview Tuesday morning, we mentioned the need for Creighton’s bats to pick up timely hits. A season’s worth of stats show the Jays lack power. But if CU hitters can maximize chances to string together multiple run rallies, the team’s pitching and defense can (usually) do the rest.
Against Indiana State, and for the third time in four games, the Bluejays posted double digit hits (10). Remarkably, in the last regular season game against Wichita State, CU had 11 hits but managed just one run. Two days before that, they turned 11 hits into seven runs. Timely hitting. C’mon, everyone say it with me!
The first three CU runs scored with two outs in the fifth inning. After groundouts by Alex Staehely and Jake Peter left Mike Gerber at third base, Brennan Murphy brought the centerfielder home with an RBI single. Brad McKewon and Nick Judkins then walked, loading the bases for Chance Ross. The senior, who had 3 of CU’s 10 hits on the afternoon, singled up the middle to drive in Murphy and McKewon.
Servais’ guys manufactured a few more runs in the seventh inning, pulling themselves away from Ty Blach Watch for a few minutes to further support their stellar starter. Murphy led off the inning with his second hit of the afternoon, and McKewon sacrificed him to second base. A Judkins single put runners on the corners with one out, and a Ross single drove Murphy home to give Creighton a 4-0 lead. Anthony Bemboom knocked Sean Manaea from the game with another single, putting runners on second and third for Scott Thornburg. CU’s DH scored Judkins with an RBI groundout, putting Indiana State up against an insurmountable 5-0 deficit against Blach.
While the Sycamores try to climb back through the loser’s side of Bracket A, the Bluejays and Redbirds meet Wednesday with a 2-0 start in the double-elimination tournament on the line.
Creighton (1-0 in MVC Tourney) vs. Illinois State (1-0 in MVC Tourney)
- Season Series: Teams split two games in Omaha; third was cancelled due to weather (photos here)
- Pitching Matchup: CU’s Shane Liska (1-4, 3.56 ERA) vs. ISU’s Dylan Craig (8-3, 4.46)
- Media Options: 1180 AM KOIL in Omaha area; ESPN3 for online video webcast (here)
The Bluejays draw arguably the top two offensive teams in the Valley in the first two games of the MVC tournament. A day after handcuffing Indiana State’s hitters, the Creighton pitching staff has its collective hands full with an Illinois State lineup that leads the Valley in batting average (.299) and on base percenrage (.393) and is second in slugging percentage (.427). The Jays, of course, bring up the rear among Valley teams in most offensive categories. But the Bluejays have the edge in pitching compared to the Redbirds; CU’s 3.40 team ERA is a full run better than ISU’s 4.43 mark.
Strength versus strength. Illinois State’s offense will test Creighton’s pitching staff. The Redbirds boast four of the league’s top hitters by average, three of the league’s top hitters by slugging percentage, and four of the league’s top hitters by on base percentage. And when they’re on base, the Redbirds run like crazy; ISU is second in the MVC with 80 stolen bases. If Craig and the other ISU pitchers can limit Creighton’s hitters just enough and get the game to Kenny Long (1.93 ERA, 13 saves), the Redbirds have a great chance to pick up their second win in the tournament. But if the Bluejays can capitalize on their chances on offense and receive a solid start from Shane Liska, Creighton could turn the tournament on its side with a 2-0 start and pole position heading toward Saturday’s championship game.
Tournament Facts, Figures, Fodder
Ross tied a career-high three runs batted in against Indiana State… Creighton’s one-through-four hitters went a combined 6-17 and drew two walks… Liska hasn’t allowed a hit in the first inning of any of his six starts in 2012… He didn’t pitch against Illinois State in April, but scored the game-winning run in the fifteenth inning as a pinch runner… Dylan Craig, a freshman, allowed only four CU hits in a complete game win that same weekend… The last time CU and Illinois State met in the Valley tournament was 1999… With yesterday’s win, CU moved to 8-1 in opening round games under Servais… Every time a Creighton has pitched a shutout in the MVC tournament, the Jays have advanced to the league championship game.