May 22, 2014
Box: #1 Creighton 9, #4 Xavier 2
By Sean Brennan
Special to BIGEAST.com
BROOKLYN, N.Y. - Xavier thought its' problems getting to New York for the BIG EAST Baseball Tournament presented by New York Life were tough enough, what with the team bus getting a flat tire before subsequently being flooded out of its hotel rooms and having to change location late Tuesday night.
But that was nothing compared to what they endured when the Musketeers faced Creighton Thursday in an opening-round game.
What looked like a budding pitching duel between Creighton's Matt Warren and Xavier's Scott Klever through four innings quickly went south as the Bluejays flexed some top-seeded offensive muscle in the fifth and sixth innings as the Jays erupted for nine runs, with all five runs in the sixth coming after two were out and the bases empty, as Creighton rolled to a 9-2 victory at MCU Park in Coney Island.
Top-seeded Creighton (31-16-1) will face the winner of Thursday's late game between No. 2 seed St. John's and third-seeded Seton Hall Friday night at 7 p.m. Xavier, (26-27) will meet the loser of the St. John's-Seton Hall game in an elimination game Friday at 4 p.m.
"We're glad we won the game," said Creighton head coach Ed Servais. "We were a little slow and tight to start the game but then once we got into the game a little bit we found a way to break it open a little bit. You could tell there was a little rust. I was concerned whether or not it would take us awhile to get into the game and I think it did."
Five innings, to be exact.
Creighton and Xavier were locked in a scoreless game through four and a half innings when the Bluejays finally hung a crooked number on the scoreboard. It started when Nicky Lopez singled to open the inning and Landon Lucansky followed with a walk to put runners on first and second with none out. After Cody Kottich moved both runners over with a sac bunt, Brad McKewon plated the game's first runs when he stroked a two-run triple in the gap in right centerfield for a 2-0 Creighton lead. Ryan Fitzgerald's sac fly to left scored McKewon for a 3-0 edge before Reagan Fowler knocked in Jake Peter with an infield single for a 4-0 lead with five innings in the books.
Xavier responded with a pair of runs in the top of the fifth when a bases-loaded walk to Patrick Jones forced in Mitch Elliott before Brian Bruening's fielder's choice plated Joe Forney and the Musketeers were back in the game, down just 4-2.
But Xavier's dreams of knocking off the top dog ended quickly and it all came after two were out and no one was on in the bottom of the sixth. It started with a walk to Kottich followed by a single by McKewon before a walk to Fitzgerald loaded the bases against Klever.
That brought up Peter, who worked the count to 3-2 before he laced an opposite-field triple down the left field line and suddenly Creighton had a 7-2 lead. It didn't stay that way for long, however, as Mike Gerber jumped on Klever's very next pitch and parked it over the wall in right field for a 9-2 Bluejays lead and Klever's night - and Xavier's - was over.
"That was huge," said Peter, who went 2-for-4 with two runs and three RBI in the win. "Obviously when we went up 4-0 we were trying to get a zero there but they battled back and we knew we had to respond. With two outs guys put up good at bats. I was fortunate enough to work the count a little bit and get a big hit and then Mike followed me with an even bigger hit and that really opened up the game. After that we really kind of kept the momentum on our side."
Both Peter and McKewon spoke of waiting on Klever's changeup and trying to take the ball the other way and the result was two of the biggest hits on the night for Creighton.
"The pitch before (his fifth-inning triple) I just missed so I was kind of hoping he'd throw it again," McKewon said. "And he left one over the plate and I stayed over it and hit it a little oppo (opposite field) and that was definitely our approach to the game."
For Xavier, it was a case of one inning getting away from it that cost the Musketeers a chance at a victory.
"I'm not saying Scott Klever was cruising but he was being very effective," Googins said. "But I think in the fifth inning they put four runs up and we answer back (with two runs) and felt pretty good about it. But when he got back out there he got two quick outs and then it was a walk, a base hit and a walk and a triple and that really hurt. Give Creighton credit, though, they're tough hitters and they battle but that did hurt us."
Xavier will now have its back to the wall Friday when its plays in an elimination game. But Brian Bruening expects the Musketeers to bounce back vs. either St. John's or Seton Hall.
"Absolutely," Bruening said. "All year we've been battling. It starts on the mound (where the X-men will throw senior Vinny Nittoli). We had opportunities but we just didn't execute but you got to give credit to Creighton, they took advantage of their opportunities. But all year we've been bouncing back so I'm confident we'll be able to bounce back tomorrow."