• Box Score: Creighton 10, Illinois State 3
• Video Below: Creighton coach Ed Servais after the game
* * *
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — For most of the season, Creighton's hitters seemed to regard baseball as a non-contact sport.
Only eight Division I teams finished the regular season with a lower batting average than the Bluejays' .239. The thought of Creighton's offense spearheading a postseason run seemed, at best, improbable.
Not now. The Bluejays rode a 13-hit attack Thursday to a 10-3 victory that eliminated Illinois State and advanced CU to the championship game of the Missouri Valley tournament for the second straight year.
Creighton hit .361 in its three Bracket A wins, totaling 10 hits or more in each game. Which raises the obvious question: Where did this offensive show come from?
“We've been saving it,'' said Bluejay catcher Scott Thornburg, a wide smile on his face. “I don't know. We're rolling right now and we're enjoying the ride. We've got one more game to go.''
That will come Saturday, when the Bluejays play for the Valley's automatic NCAA tournament berth in the 7 p.m. championship game at Hammons Field. Their opponent will be Southern Illinois, which claimed the Bracket B spot with a 3-2, 10-inning win over Missouri State in Thursday's last game.
Creighton brought a 22-28 record into the tournament, having won just six of its 20 league games. The Bluejays scored no more than eight runs in any of their Valley games and did not score more than 12 runs in any of their seven conference series.
They ousted Illinois State by scoring 21 runs on 29 hits the past two games after opening the tournament with a 5-0 victory over top-seeded Indiana State.
“We've had our fair share of offensive struggles,'' second baseman Jake Peter said. “But we're coming around at the right time and everyone is jelling together.”
Peter had four of Creighton's hits against the Redbirds. His two-run single capped the Bluejays' three-run fifth inning that left them with a 5-0 lead.
Illinois State (33-19) chipped away against starter Erik Mattingly, scoring two runs in the fifth. Kyle Stanton opened the seventh with a double to chase Mattingly, and Illinois State cut its deficit to 5-3 before the inning was over.
“They were creeping back into the game,'' Peter said. “Then we had that big inning, and you could just feel the relief come off our shoulders.''
The Bluejays sealed the victory with a five-run eighth that Peter started with a one-out single. Another single and a hit batsman loaded the bases, leading the Redbirds to bring in relief ace Kenny Long.
CU first baseman Nick Judkins greeted the first-team All-Valley pick with a single to right field, scoring two runs. Chance Ross' sacrifice squeeze bunt brought home Creighton's eighth run, and Mike Gerber closed out the big inning with a two-run single that gave him three RBIs for the game.
Peter, Judkins and Ross each drove in two. The Bluejays got eight hits from Thornburg, Peter and Brennan Murphy, the bottom three hitters in the lineup. Relievers Chase Webb and Mark Winkelman allowed just one hit in the final three innings to clinch Creighton's fifth trip to the tournament final in coach Ed Servais' nine seasons.
Afterward, Servais was asked if he regarded making it this time as improbable, as most everyone else does.
He replied no. in spite of the tough times his team endured this season, he said, it never lost its belief in itself. Neither did he.
“We knew early in the season we were not going to win the regular season,” he said. “We devoted all of our attention to getting better and doing something here. This was our opportunity.''
Contact the writer:
402-679-2298, firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter.com/PivOWH
* * *
Southern Illinois 3, Missouri State 2, 10 innings
Brian Bajer's sacrifice fly scored Chris Serritella with the winning run in the 10th to put the Salukis in the title game. Serritella walked, stole second, moved to third on a double steal and scored on the fly ball to center field. Missouri State (39-20) had tied the game on Keenen Maddox's two-out RBI single in the ninth.
* * *
Illinois State 5, Evansville 4
Chad Hinshaw hit two homers, including the game-winner in the 10th, as the Redbirds eliminated Evansville (32-27). The Purple Aces took a 4-2 lead into the eighth but Hinshaw homered and Illinois State tied it in the ninth. Hinshaw then won it with a bomb that cleared the bullpen in left field.
* * *
Missouri State 11, Bradley 8
Luke Voit had five hits and five RBIs as the Bears outlasted Bradley (27-27-1) in 13 innings an elimination game. Jason Leblebijian set the game into extra innings with a three-run homer in the ninth. Voit hit a two-run homer in the 12th but Bradley came back to tie the game again. Dylan Becker's sacrifice fly and Voit's two-run single then gave the Bears the win in the 13th.
* * *
• Video: Creighton coach Ed Servais after the game: