The Creighton baseball team has swept through the first three games of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, earning a spot in the title game following a 10-3 win over Illinois State on Thursday night. The offense again led the way for the 25-28 Bluejays, as Creighton out hit the Redbirds 13-8, twice posting three-run innings.
The Bluejays will take on Southern Illinois in Saturday night’s winner-take-all final, after the sixth-seeded Salukis went 3-0 in its bracket, including a 3-2, 10-inning win on Thursday night eliminate second-seeded host Missouri State. At stake is an automatic berth into the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
Bluejay starter Erik Mattingly matched his longest outing since his 9.0, no-hit effort against Indiana State on April 7, surrendering three runs in his 6.0 inning effort. Mattingly finished with two strikeouts and seven hits surrendered. He picks up his second win in MVC Tournament play, also getting the win in his 2.0 innings of shutout work in the elimination win over Missouri State in last years tournament.
The Jays scored first for the third time this tournament, pushing across two runs in the top of the first inning. Brad McKewon was hit by a 2-1 pitch and stole second, his fifth of the season. A Nick Judkins single to left field put runners on the corners before Judkins was forced out on a ground ball from Chance Ross, pushing across the first run of the day.
Ross then stole second, advancing to third on a ground out from Anthony Bemboom. Alex Staehely became the second Bluejay of the inning before Mike Gerber singled to right field, driving in Ross. Staehely was hung up between second and third for the final out of the frame, but not before Creighton took the 2-0 lead early.
Mattingly kept the strong Illinois State offense silenced through the first three innings, surrendering a pair of base hits through the first three frames, but did not allow either runner to advance off first base.
After Jeremy Rhoades retired seven straight Bluejay batters into the fourth inning, Thornburg picked up his second hit of the day, again lacing one right back up the middle. Jake Peter put a pair of runners on base, pulling a single through the right side of the infield. A full-count walk to Murphy loaded the bases with just one out. A strike out followed by inning-ending ground out strands all three base runners in the fourth.
Creighton took advantage of a pair of Redbird errors in the fifth inning to push across three runs and take the 5-0 lead. A pair of fly balls sandwiched a single from Bemboom to right field, leaving the Jays with a runner at first and two outs. A ground ball off Gerber’s bat looked like it would end the frame and strand another runner.
But Redbirds first baseman Kyle Stanton dropped the throw from second baseman Kevin Tokarski to put a pair of Jays on the bases. The third hit of the day from Thornburg, a single through the left side, scored Bemboom and put both runners in scoring position. A Peter single off Redbirds reliever Justin Hauer to right centerfield pushed across two more Jays, Creighton holding a 5-0 lead.
Illinois State responded by taking advantage of the first Bluejay error in the tournament in the bottom of the fifth inning to score its first runs of the game. With one out, Stanton singled through the left side, advancing to third when Brett Kay hit a grounder and moved to second on a throwing error by Peter. With both runners in scoring position, Wiesemeyer doubled to score both runs. Creighton finished the fifth clinging to a 5-2 lead.
Mattingly regrouped himself to shut down the Redbirds in the sixth inning before surrendering a leadoff double in the seventh to the final batter he faced. Creighton brought in Chase Webb in the top of the seventh, getting the first out with a long fly ball to center that moved Stanton to third base. A single to center from Chad Hinshaw scored the third run for the Redbirds.
A defensive highlight play from Peter at second pegged out Ty Wiesemeyer for the second out of the inning before Webb struck out Kevin Tokarski looking for the final out of the frame. The Bluejays held onto a 5-3 lead after seven complete.
The Bluejays put up their second three-run inning of the day in the eighth, increasing the lead to 8-3. With one out, Peter singled to left field and stole second. An infield single from Murphy and hit-by-pitch to McKewon loaded the bases full of Bluejays. Illinois State brought in Kenny Long, who was making his second appearance of the day after throwing in the first game of the day for ILS.
Judkins welcomed Long to the game with a single down the right field line, driving in two runs before Ross squeeze bunted in McKewon for Creighton’s eighth run of the day. A ground out moved both runners into scoring position before a Gerber single to center gave Creighton a 10-3 lead heading to the bottom of the eighth inning.
Mark Winkelman came into the game in the bottom of the eighth and struck out the side to silence the Redbirds bats and not allow any sort of answer to the five-spot the Jays put up. He returned to the mound in the final frame, inducing a ground out, fly out and taking the final ground ball himself to close the door on the Redbirds season.
Peter led the Jays offensively, going 4-4 with two RBI and a run scored. He reached base all five times he came to the plate, walking in his final at-bat of the game. Gerber had his second straight three-RBI game, finishing 2-5 from the plate and scoring a run on his own.