Creighton left a season-high 17 men on base, including the bases loaded four times in the first seven innings, as the Wichita State baseball team topped the visiting Bluejays, 4-2, in the championship game of the 2009 State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament on Saturday night.
With its league-record 17th MVC Tournament title, Wichita State is now 30-25 and headed for its 27th NCAA Tournament all-time. Creighton sees its season end with a 31-25 record.
The story of the night was Creighton’s inability to produce with runners on base. CU hit just 3-of-19 with runners on base, including 0-for-6 with the bases loaded. Time after time Creighton’s offense, which produced nine hits and 12 walks, could not bust open the closely contested game. The Jays left the sacks full in the first, fourth, sixth and seventh frames as four Shocker freshmen hurlers continually worked out of trouble.
Wichita State took the early 1-0 lead with a two-out run in the bottom of the first inning. Tyler Grimes led off with a double down the third base line on Greg Hellhake’s second pitch of the game. Then with two outs, Grimes scored from third on Clinton McKeever’s single up the middle. Ryan Engrav followed with a single for WSU’s third hit of the inning before Jones grounded a bunt back to Hellhake to finish the inning.
Creighton wasted little time tying the game back up with a two-out RBI of its own in the second inning. T.J. Roemmich singled and wheeled all the way to third when a throw by WSU catcher Cody Lassley trying to catch him stealing sailed into centerfield. Roemmich would come home on Scott Thornburg’s grounder to short.
Nick Becker made a highlight-worthy catch in the bottom of the second inning to keep the score knotted at 1-1. With two down, Chance Sossamon lofted a deep fly ball to the left. Becker timed his leap perfectly at the wall to take a potential home run away from the Shocker freshman.
Shocker reliever Remington Johnson bailed WSU starter Charlie Lowell out of a major jam in the top of the fourth, which saw CU leave the bases loaded. After retiring Roemmich on strikes to open the fourth, Lowell would walk Jimmy Swift, Thornburg and Knight to load the bases. Johnson, also a freshman, came in and got Elliot Soto to pop out to short before Darin Ruf’s foul ball down the right-field line was hauled in on a sliding catch by second baseman Will Baez.
CU starter Greg Hellhake also didn’t make it out of the fourth inning, losing control in stunning fashion. After getting a pair of ground outs to second to start the fourth, Ryan Jones lined a single to right. Hellhake then walked Chris O’Brien on five pitches and Bret Bascue on four wide ones to load the bases. After falling behind on Sossaman 2-0, Hellhake was yanked in favor of Kirk Clark. Clark, CU’s closer at the start of the year, needed just one pitch to escape the bases-loaded jam when he induced another ground ball to second.
After Johnson ran into trouble in the top of the fifth, it was another freshman Shocker reliever who wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam. Becker and Vitale walked and Roemmich looped another single to right to fill the bases. Johnson got Swift to strike out. When Ed Servais went to his bench to bring in left-handed Ian Dike, WSU coach Gene Stephenson quickly countered with a lefty of his own, Brian Flynn. Flynn got ahead in the count and got Dike on a called third strike, bringing the Shocker faithful to their feet.
The bottom of the fifth inning also featured the baes being left loaded when a lefty reliever came in to get his team out of a jam. After Clark got consecutive foul outs to third base, he yielded a single to right and a double to left-center. Engrav walked to load the bases and Servais went to the bullpen to get Wednesday starter Jeremy Hauer for the lefty-lefty match-up. Hauer needed just three pitches to retire Ryan Jones, who bounced out to second.
After CU stranded two more in the top of the sixth inning, WSU would finally take the lead in the bottom of the frame. All-MVC reliever Jack VanLeur got two easy outs before Sossaman and Grimes singled. Cody Lassley then lifted a drive to the base of the left-field wall, scoring Sossaman with the go-ahead run. Lassley also tried to score, but the Becker-to-Soto-to-Vitale relay throw led to Lassley being called out.
Creighton also left the sacks full in the seventh inning. Roemmich doubled with one out. Walks to Swift and Knight, sandwiched around a Dike sacrifice bunt, gave Soto a chance to be the hero, but he would ground out to first.
The Shockers tallied some insurance runs in the home half of the seventh inning. With one away McKeever and Engrav singled to put runners on the corners. McKeever scored on a tapper back to VanLeur, before O’Brien ended the pitcher’s night with a run-scoring single to the gap in right-center.
Creighton got one run back in the top of the eighth, but would squander a two-on, no-out opportunity. Ruf singled and moved to second on a walk to Cafaro. Ruf raced home to score on Becker’s single to center. After Vitale popped up a bunt attempt, Sossaman then started a 1-6-3 double play off the bat of Roemmich to put WSU three outs from the championship.
Criehgton was retired in order for the only time all night in the ninth inning as Swift struck out swinging on a 2-2 pitch, Dike flew out to left and Knight flew out to deep center.
Flynn earned the win in relief, improving to 2-5 despite giving up four hits and four walks in 2.1 frames of work. Sossaman notched his third save after nailing down the final six outs. Leading WSU’s offense was McKeever, who was 3-for-4, while Grimes, Lassley and Engrave had two hits each.
VanLeur dropped to 3-4, allowing six hits and three runs in 1.2 innings of work. Roemmich led CU’s offense with three hits, while Ruf and Becker both had two hits. Knight and Cafaro both had three walks, while Becker and Swift both had two free passes.