May 24, 2014
By Sean Brennan
Special to BIGEAST.com
BROOKLYN, N.Y. - Creighton head coach Ed Servais made no bones about his Bluejays' intentions for their trip to Coney Island for the BIG EAST Baseball Tournament presented by New York Life.
"We didn't come here to finish second," Servais said.
So, faced with an opportunity to advance to Sunday's championship game with a victory over Seton Hall Saturday afternoon, Servais rolled the dice a little bit, opting to replace his previously scheduled starter, Taylor Elman, with his closer.
Yes, his closer, and up until last week's game against Xavier, that closer, senior Bryan Sova, had never made even a single career start.
Turned out Servais' gamble paid off handsomely as Sova tossed an unofficial complete-game five-hitter, and the tandem of Mike Gerber and Reagan Fowler provided all the offense Sova would need as top-seeded Creighton secured its spot in the BIG EAST championship game with a 2-1 victory over the third-seeded Pirates at MCU Park.
"I can't say enough about Bryan Sova, who threw 28 pitches on Thursday (in relief) and goes and throws a complete game," Servais said. "He not only sets us up to win (Saturday's) game but gives us a really good opportunity to be competitive (Sunday).
Servais said he originally had Elman penciled in as his starter for Friday night's scheduled game against Seton Hall but when the game was postponed due to rain, he had second thoughts while sitting back in his hotel.
"Taylor Elman was going to start (Friday night)," Servais said. "I thought it was too late for Bryan to turn around after Thursday's outing so I sat on it (Friday) night and thought a lot about it. I was very impressed with Seton Hall's preparation so I thought this game could be determined early so I wanted my most veteran experienced pitcher to start the game and that was Bryan."
Sova hadn't even had breakfast yet when he was hit with the news that he was the Bluejays' new starter.
"I walked out of the hotel room (Saturday) morning and Coach Servais said, `You're starting,'" Sova said. "A couple of hours before the game actually. I woke up (Saturday) morning expecting Taylor to start and sure enough I got the start."
And Sova was impressive right from the start.
He retired the first five batters he faced before yielding a two-out single to Chris Selden in the second. He then retired the next five Pirates in order before a one-out single by Kyle Grimm in the fourth broke his streak. It wasn't until the sixth inning that Seton Hall managed to squeeze a run out of Sova but by that time the Bluejays were holding a 2-0 lead thanks to an RBI triple by Gerber which knocked in Jake Peter and Fowler's ensuing RBI double which plated Gerber.
Seton Hall pulled within, 2-1, in that sixth when Chris Chiaradio led off with a triple before coming around on a single by Derek Jenkins. But after a sac bunt by Zack Weigel moved Jenkins to second, Sova got Grimm to fly out to center before getting Sal Annunziata to bounce out to end the threat.
"I think personally the guys have a ton of confidence in Bryan," Gerber said. "He throws a ton of strikes and he competes and I think the feeling when we're defending behind him is it's going to be a quick game. Guys are going to hit balls but we're going to make plays and good things will happen."
Which is exactly what Sova continued to do. He retired the side in order in both the seventh and eighth innings before surrendering a two-out double to Annunziata in the ninth. That hit brought Servais to the mound for a little strategy session.
"I went to the mound and Bryan and I and his teammates discussed," Servais said. "We thought about walking (D.J.) Ruhlman to get to Selden because Selden had a rough day. But Bryan likes the challenge and he said, `Let's go after this guy. Let's see what we can do.'"
Sova then got Ruhlman, the Co-BIG EAST Player of the Year, to fly out to center and when the ball landed in Gerber's glove the Bluejays had their spot reserved in the title game.
Sova's performance was so top-shelf that even the veteran Servais amazed.
"We've never had a closer in all my years convert in the last two or three weeks of the season and all of a sudden become a focal point on the front end (of the rotation)," Servais said. "Bryan was our starter and closer (Saturday) and that's the first time I've ever had that in my 11 years in Creighton. You got to give the credit to him. He's a very competitive young man and he's not going to back down from any situation."
Now Creighton sits just one more victory away from sweeping both the BIG EAST regular-season and conference tournament titles. Not a bad daily-double for the Bluejays' first season in the conference.
"That's been our goal since Day 1 when we were practicing in the fall," said Sova, a closer by trade who is tied for second in the conference with nine saves. "Win the regular season, get to the tournament then win the tournament. Creighton, our first year in the BIG EAST, we just wanted to be the first team to do it. That's really our mindset the whole way though."