Creighton baseball kept its Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title hopes alive with a pair of victories on Thursday at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha. After the Bluejays defeated Southern Illinois 5-0 in an elimination game on Thursday afternoon, the top-seeded hosts bounced back to post a 6-5, come-from-behind win over fourth-seeded Missouri State (33-22) Thursday night to remain in title contention. The win puts the Bluejays in a rematch with the Bears at 4 pm on Friday, following Wichita State and Indiana State’s 12:30 pm elimination game.
The one-run game in front of 3,213 fans, took 2:56 to play and featured five errors, four by the Bears, two wild pitches, two hit batters, a passed ball and two runners reaching base on strikeouts. The teams combined for 19 hits and 19 runners left on base in the ball game.
The Bears took an early 2-0 lead, scoring a pair of runs on a two-out double by Brent Seifert in the bottom of the first inning. Aaron Conway started the game with a single for the Bears and moved into scoring position on his 69th career stolen base, tying MSU’s career-record for steals. With two outs, Brock Chaffin worked a walk and came around to score along with Conway on Seifert’s doubled over the head of Trever Adams in right field.
Creighton (42-14) cut the Bears lead in half in the top of the second inning, with Adams manufacturing the run. Adams singled to lead off the inning, reaching base for the 40th straight game. He then swiped his third stolen base of the day and team-leading 14th of the season to put himself in scoring position. With one out Adams scored from second base on an infield single by Scott Thornburg. Thornburg’s hard hopper to second base took a wicked hop just before it reached Kevin Medrano at second. Medrano stabbed at the ball over his head with his bare hand to knock the ball down and keep it on the infield, while Adams never slowed down on the play and slid around the tag on Medrano’s throw for CU’s first run of the game.
MSU got that run back in the bottom of the second, scoring an unearned run on a throwing error by Bluejay third baseman Chance Ross to regain its two-run lead, up 3-1 after two.
The Bluejays, playing as the visiting team, evened the score at three with a pair of runs in the top of the fifth inning. Clay Cuno led off the inning with his third double of the season – all of which have come during the MVC Tournament. He moved to third when Mike Gerber hit a double down the left field line. MSU starter Clay Murphy then hit Ross with a pitch to load the bases for the top of the Bluejay line up. Pinch-hitterGabriel Thibodeaux delivered an RBI single to right field, to score the second run of the game, but when MSU’s right fielder Spiker Helms’ throw got by MSU catcher Luke Voit, Gerber crossed the plate to tie the game at 3-3. The Jays could do no more damage however, losing one runner on the base paths and stranding one in the frame.
Missouri State wasted no time in reclaiming the lead, as Medrano led off the bottom of the fifth with a double. After a one-out single moved Medrano to third, he scored easily on another RBI double from Seifert. Travis McComack’s sacrifce fly to left field scored Chaffin with MSU’s second run of the inning to give the Bears back their two-run lead and they led 5-3 after five complete.
Three errors by the Bears in the top of the sixth inning allowed the Bluejays to score a run and cut into the MSU lead. With one out, Staehely reached base after he struck out and Voit sailed his throw to first base in an attempt to complete the out. Scott Thornburg was then hit by a pitch and MSU coach Keith Guttin pulled Murphy and brought in Pierce Johnson to face Cuno. Cuno grounded a ball to first, but Chaffin threw wildly to second base in an attempt to force out Thornburg, allowing Staehely to score CU’s fourth run.
An intentional walk to Gerber loaded the bases for Ross with one out. The Bluejay third baseman hit a ball up the middle, but Johnson knocked the ball down with his right leg, picked it up and got the lead runner at home for the second out. Johnson would then get Thibodeaux to ground out on a 3-1 pitch to escape the inning and preserve the one-run MSU lead.
Another bizarre series of events allowed the Bluejays to tie the game in the seventh inning. With two outs, Thornburg could not check his swing on a third strike, but the pitch got away from Voit behind the plate allowing Thornburg to reach safely and Nick Judkins to score the tying run.
A rare foul ball sacrifice fly from Judkins gave the Jays their first lead of the night in the eighth inning. Ross scored what proved to be the game-winning run on the play after he had singled with one out earlier in the frame.
The Jays, who scored in four of their final five half innings, kept the Bears off the scoreboard through the final four innings, but not without working around a ninth-inning jam to preserve the victory.
Conway led off the bottom of the ninth with an infield single and moved to second on a walk to Medrano. Both runners were pushed into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Kennen Maddox, and the Bluejays opted to intentionally walk Chaffin to load the bases. Seifert, who had already delivered two RBI doubles in the game, was jammed by a Kurt Spomer pitch and popped up to first base for the second out of the frame and McComack flew out to left field to end the game.
Reese McGraw (6-1) picked up the win in relief for the Bluejays, throwing 1.2 innings of scoreless baseball. He entered with two runners on base in the seventh inning, but kept those runs off the board and held the Bears at five runs. Spomer pitched the ninth inning to pick up his 12th save of the season. Brandon Koenigstein started and took a no-decision after a season-long outing of 4.1 innings. He allowed five runs, four earned, and struck out two before giving way to reliever Jack VanLeur in the fifth. VanLeur allowed just one hit and struck out two in his two innings of scoreless relief.
Murphy did not factor in the decision, lasting 5.1 innings, striking out seven and allowing five hits and three earned runs in the start. Johnson closed out the game, taking the loss to fall to 6-5 on the spring. He allowed just one earned run in 3.2 innings of work out of the bullpen.
Thibodeaux was 2-for-3 with an RBI off the bench for the Bluejays, the only CU player with more than one hit in the game.
Creighton and Missouri State will square off on Friday with the right to play in Saturday night’s MVC Tournament title game against the winner of the Wichita State-Indiana State contest.