May 25, 2014
Box: Xavier 5, Creighton 0
By Sean Brennan
Special to BIGEAST.com
BROOKLYN, N.Y. – It wasn’t long after the final out had been recorded, the celebration had abated and the championship trophies had all been given out. But there was still one thing for the exuberant Xavier Musketeers to do before their BIG EAST Baseball Championship presented by New York Life experience was complete.
So they peeled off their uniforms and raced out of MCU Park and up the Coney Island boardwalk. There was Mitch Elliott, the newly-minted Most Outstanding Player, and catcher Daniel Rizzie. There was Vinny Nittoli and Joe Forney. Patrick Jones and Brian Bruening, Derek Hasenbeck, Andre Jernigan, Michael Moore and Steve Schoettmer, who had two key RBI in the Xavier’s 5-0 title-clinching victory over Creighton, all racing past the puzzled crowd on the boardwalk.
Soon they were racing down the sand toward the water. Sean Campbell and Eric Stiene had joined the crowd by now, as did Trent Astle. More on him in a moment.
Senior pitcher Scott Klever was part of the crowd, too, and he had the good presence of mind to grab the banner that read “2014 BIG EAST CHAMPIONS” as the entire Musketeers baseball team did their version of a victory Polar Bear Plunge in the cold waters of Coney Island as onlookers from both the beach and the pier nearby cheered the newly-crowned baseball champions.
“Oh man that was worth it,” a soaked Elliott proclaimed as he reached the beach after the plunge and ensuing pictures.
“Definitely!” Klever chimed in.
Just five days ago, this was a scene that no one, probably not even Xavier, saw coming. The Musketeers spent Tuesday dealing with a variety of obstacles on their trip in from Cincinnati (just to review: their flight was late, their team bus popped a flat on I-95, they changed said flat in the Bronx and when they finally arrived at their hotel - what they thought was their hotel - their floor was flooded thanks to another guest who had flushed a tee shirt down a toilet. It resulted in a move to a new hotel out by Kennedy Airport which they promptly checked into sometime around midnight).
Toss in a 9-2 loss to Creighton in their first game of the tournament and yes, a victory dip in the Atlantic was probably not on Xavier’s Sunday To-Do List.
But thanks to Astle, the Musketeers will make their 12-hour trip home soaking wet – and happy.
Astle, who was a mid-week starter for the X-Men this season and posted a 0-0 record with a hefty 9.39 ERA in BIG EAST action, was tasked with the assignment of shutting down a top-seeded Bluejays team in a title game just days after Creighton dealt Xavier what was thought to be a knockout 9-2 defeat Thursday night. Oh, and did we mention that Astle was a freshman and Creighton boasted the Co-Player of the Year in Reagan Fowler as well as supreme power bats in Jake Peter and Mike Gerber?
So you can see what Xavier was up against Sunday at MCU Park. In fact, after knocking off Seton Hall Saturday, Xavier coach Scott Googins said he’d have to spend some time in deep thought as to who would be his starter in Xavier’s biggest game of the season.
So he went to a place where he could get some clarity.
“We went over to Applebees,” Googins said. “And before we even sat down we decided Trent was going to be our guy. He’s been a mid-week starter for us and he’s given us good starts. He pitched well the other day vs. Creighton. We thought he’d be a good matchup against Creighton because they have so many good left-handed hitters that he could neutralize a little bit. Trent got some lazy fly balls for us and kept them off balance.”
Did he ever.
The freshman southpaw worked the first three innings in order before yielding a leadoff single to Creighton’s Brad McKewon in the fourth. But that was all the Bluejays could muster vs. Astle in the inning. With a walk in the fifth and a hit batter in the sixth, Astle allowed just three Bluejays base runners through six innings, during which time the Musketeers built themselves a tidy 5-0 lead.
Xavier struck for a pair of runs in the third when Elliott scored on an error by right fielder Ben Lahn and Forney came around on a single by Rizzie for a 2-0 lead. The X-Men added a run in the fourth on a Forney single to left that scored Brian Bruening before plating two more in the fifth on Schoettmer’s two-run single to center.
That was more than enough for Astle, who was masterful throughout. The only time he even caught a hint of trouble – when he allowed back-to-back singles to Nicky Lopez and Landon Lucansky in the seventh with two out – he got Cody Kottich to fly out to end the threat. Astle then calmly got the next six outs to seal the seal for the Musketeers and the celebration was on.
It capped a whirlwind day for Astle, who also got the word at Applebee’s.
“(Xavier pitching) Coach (Nick) Otte was real calm and said, ‘You got the ball (Sunday),’ Astle said. “I was excited but I try not to show too much excitement and stay calm.”
The freshman’s calm demeanor and workmanlike success against an excellent Creighton team had his teammates gushing in their praise of his performance.
“He threw unbelievable,” said Elliott. “It was surreal the whole time. Every inning I came in (to the dugout) and I just kept telling him he was a stud. That was unbelievable, man, especially for a freshman.”
Astle did what was thought to be the impossible in shutting down Creighton’s Big Three of Peter, Gerber and Fowler, who went a combined 0-for-12 in the game, including Fowler’s fly out to Bruening in center to end the game.
“He was hitting his spots,” Gerber said. “It’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Not to take anything away from him, he pitched great, but I think we got a little tight when we got down and we tried to force things a little too much.”
And now Xavier, who just squeaked into the BIG EAST Tournament by edging out Butler by a game, is off to the NCAA Tournament with an automatic bid. The delayed flights, bus issues and soggy hotels now seem all worth it.
“I think getting on the field allowed us to get away from all the off-the-field issues,” Astle said. “Stepping between the lines, we knew what we could control and we didn’t lose faith after that first day. And it turned out nice.”
“We were 8-10 (in the BIG EAST) but I thought we were a way better team than that,” Elliott said. “I told the guys we had to get hot eventually because we’re doing all the right things. I guess this was the best time to possibly do it.”
Five days ago Xavier looked like its stay in Brooklyn for the BIG EAST tournament would be a forgettable one. Instead it ended with a delirious Musketeers team taking a victory bath in the Atlantic. Now they head home to Cincinnati wet, a little sandy but with a championship to celebrate.
Another bus ride. This one will be so much more fun.
BIG EAST All-Tournament Team
Dan Rizzie, Xavier, C
Reagan Fowler, Creighton, IF
Robbie Knightes, St. John's, IF
Joe Forney, Xavier, IF
Jake Peter, Creighton, IF
Mike Gerber, Creighton, OF
Mitch Elliott, Xavier, OF (Most Outstanding Player)
Zach Weigel, Seton Hall, OF
Derek Hasenbeck, Xavier, DH
Trent Astle, Xavier, P
Sean Campbell, Xavier, P