See you, Creighton
The Wichita State-Creighton rivalry, as conference opponents, ended with a symmetry the messy and exhilarating games rarely had.
WSU, which dominated the baseball series, knocked the Bluejays out of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament with a satisfying 11-4 win on Wednesday. Creighton, which generally got the better of the basketball rivalry, departs for the Big East with conference and tournament basketball titles won at the expense of the Shockers.
While the schools loved to beat up on each other, they will miss the competition. In baseball, the Bluejays provided WSU’s longest-running Valley rivalry.
“I’m sad, very sad,” WSU coach Gene Stephenson said. “For the most part, they’ve been up around the top of the league. We’ve had some great games.”
Two Omaha natives played a major role sending the Bluejays home without a win.
First baseman Casey Gillaspie, from Millard North High, homered and drove in three runs. Pitcher A.J. Ladwig, from Millard West, threw the first complete game of his career. While Ladwig admitted that beating Creighton is always nice, Gillaspie talked about the win with a big grin. He took a 6-5 loss to Creighton, the opening game of the series 12 days earlier, particularly hard. He flew out to end the game, with two runners on, and sat in the dugout, head in his hands, for at least 15 minutes.
Wednesday’s memory is a much happier one. Nothing personal against the Bluejays, but those games matter a lot to a guy from Omaha.
“I can’t stand it when we lose to Creighton,” he said. “They’re probably the team I can’t stand the most, just because I’m from there. It was good for us to come out here and take care of them, send them home.”
While men’s basketball is Creighton’s marquee sport, the Bluejays contributed significantly in baseball, starting with the 1991 College World Series. Under coach Ed Servais, they won the MVC tournament in 2007, 2011 and 2012 and regular-season titles in 2005 and 2011.
“Creighton has meant a lot to the Valley, and not just in basketball,” Servais said. “There are probably some people that are happy we’re no longer in the league but there are people that are sad, too.
“I appreciate everything the Valley did for me as a coach. I think people have a lot of respect for the way we run our program, and to me, that’s very important.”
Save those arms
Ladwig threw 112 pitches, every one valuable because it kept his relievers from throwing any at all.
The Shockers need to win two games on Thursday and one Friday to get to Saturday’s championship game. That won’t be easy, but Ladwig’s effort makes that task more reasonable. They enter Thursday with lefty Aaron LaBrie, senior T.J. McGreevy and closer Brandon Peterson fresh to back up starters Garrett Brummett and Kris Gardner.
“(Ladwig) did a workmanlike performance,” Stephenson said. “He battled and stayed in there really tough.”
The Bluejays pushed Ladwig in the early innings. They couldn’t topple him. Creighton put runners at first and third with one out in the first inning. Ladwig struck out cleanup hitter Mike Gerber on three pitches and got a popup to end the inning. In the fourth, Ladwig held Creighton to two runs after giving up three hits to start the inning, helped by catcher Tyler Baker throwing out Jordan Mackovicka stealing second to end the inning.
“We had a chance to score a run early in the first inning, and you don’t know how that might have changed that bottom half,” Servais said. “We get guys on first and third and don’t get them in.”
In contrast to starts in which he struggled, Ladwig was able to contain the damage, often with a strikeout. His hitters gave him a 3-0 lead and he never gave it all back.
“I did have a little cushion,” he said. “You don’t want those big innings, that’s what you kills you. If they score a run, just move on and get the next guy.”
Thoughts for Oklahoma
WSU freshman Joe Haddox lives about a half-mile from Highland East Junior High in Moore, Okla., one of the schools destroyed in Monday’s tornado.
“A couple of my buddies’ houses got hit pretty good,” he said. “I was trying to comfort them and let them know we’re thankful they still have their lives. You can replace a house. You can’t replace a life.”
Haddox’s house escaped without damage.
Creighton entered the tournament with a power ranking (RPI) at No. 48. SECBaseball.com listed it as an at-large team in its projection for the 64-team field.
Two losses later, those hopes are dead.
“We didn’t give ourselves a chance,” Servais said. “I thought like if we could get two wins, we’d have a chance (at an at-large). I don’t know if the players felt that added pressure a little bit, especially yesterday in the Indiana State game.”
WSU can relate. The Shockers doomed their NCAA chances a year ago with an 0-2 performance in the tournament at Hammons Field.
Indiana State starter Devin Moore threw a seven-hitter in a 5-0 win over Southern Illinois, not allowing a runner to third until the ninth inning.
The loss dumps seventh-seeded SIU (25-32) into an elimination game rematch with WSU. SIU defeated WSU 5-1 on Tuesday.
Indiana State, thanks to Moore’s 101-pitch brilliance, needs one win to advance to Saturday’s title game.
“Devin was as good as he can possibly be,” Indiana State coach Rick Heller said. “He never wavered.”
Moore saved the bullpen for an all-out effort on Thursday. Heller will start sophomore Greg Kuhlman, who is 3-1 with a 5.18 ERA and made one conference start. Heller would be happy with five innings from him.
Heller said starting ace Sean Manaea is unlikely. Manaea, regarded as a first-round draft pick, skipped Tuesday’s start with shoulder stiffness.
“He was pretty sore (Wednesday),” Heller said. “Barring a miracle, I think that’s the route we’ll go, with Kuhlman.”
The Salukis left Bass Field at around 8:30 p.m., scheduled to return at around 7 a.m. They will throw lefty Derek Fogel, who took the loss in a 5-2 defeat to WSU on April 28. He allowed seven hits and two earned runs in five innings. SIU coach Ken Henderson used one reliever — Matt Murphy — in the first two games.
“We’ve got pretty much the whole bullpen,” Henderson said. “We’re all right with pitching.”
Kevin Kaczmarski’s two-run homer in the ninth lifted fifth-seeded Evansville over eighth-seeded Bradley 4-3. Bradley reliever Elliot Ashbeck gave up a single and a walk with one out before Kaczmarski homered to right on a 2-1 count to end the game.
The Aces totaled four hits and a run in the sixth before the ninth inning.
WSU and Creighton split four games and the Shockers lead the series, started in 1970, 114-47-1.… Creighton starter Austin Groth faced six hitters in the first inning before recording a strike. He gave up five hits, all without sneaking a strike past a hitter.… WSU’s 17 hits were its most since it had 18 in an 18-8 win at Bradley on April 14.… Peterson is one of 46 semifinalists for the Gregg Olson Award, given to the “Breakout Player of the Year.” Finalists will be announced June 3.… Creighton went 0-2 in the tournament for the first time under Servais and the first time since 2003.
— Paul Suellentrop
No. 6 Indiana State 4, No. 3 Creighton 3
No. 7 Southern Illinois 5, No. 2 Wichita State 1
No. 4 Missouri State 2, No. 5 Evansville 1
No. 1 Illinois State 11, No. 8 Bradley 1 (8 inn.)
Wichita State 11, Creighton 4
Indiana State 5, Southern Illinois 0
Evansville 4, Bradley 3
Illinois State 6, Missouri St. 1
Southern Illinois vs. Wichita State, 9 a.m.
SIU-WSU winner vs. Indiana St., 4 p.m.
Evansville vs. Missouri St., 12:30 p.m.
EU-MSU winner vs. Illinois St., 7:30 p.m.
If necessary, 12:30 p.m.
If necessary, 4 p.m.
Championship, 7:07 p.m. (FSKC)