OMAHA — For the second straight season, Wichita State will send the Missouri Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year to the mound on short rest.
Junior lefty Charlie Lowell will start tonight's MVC Tournament title game after throwing in Tuesday's opener.
"The arm feels good," he said. "It seems like it's come back pretty good."
Last season, Jordan Cooper struggled in the title game against Illinois State, although shoddy defense figured in. Cooper gave up seven hits and five earned runs in two innings and the Redbirds routed the Shockers 17-8.
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That experience didn't change pitching coach Brent Kemnitz's thinking on the situation. Lowell usually gets a week off between starts. Tonight, he will start four days after throwing 6 1/3 innings against Evansville in a 2-1 win.
"I'm sure last year was a fluke," Kemnitz said. "I'm sure normally Cooper would have been fine. Maybe it had nothing to do with three days (rest). Maybe it was just one of those days."
Pitchers usually ramp up their running to prepare for short rest.
"Normal stuff, I've been running, maybe a little extra," Lowell said. "Getting soft tissue massages, trying to get ready. My body feels good."
Lowell struck out eight and allowed five hits in a complete-game, 8-0 win over Creighton on May 6 at Eck Stadium.
WSU's bullpen is in solid shape, thanks to Friday's efforts by freshmen Zach Beringer and Albert Minnis. The first option will be sophomore T.J. McGreevy, who threw four shutout innings against Indiana State on Wednesday. Closer Cale Elam threw 2 2/3 innings scoreless innings on Tuesday against Evansville. He has not allowed a run in 16 innings against Valley teams.
Creighton will start senior right-hander Jonas Dufek, who beat WSU with 12 strikeouts over seven innings during the regular season. He allowed seven hits in a 7-5 win. He won't likely pitch as long as Lowell after throwing eight innings on Wednesday in a game pushed back a day by rain.
"We're not going to extend him too much," Creighton coach Ed Servais said. "We think we're going to play the following week (in an NCAA regional), so we want to be smart about it."
On the road — This is how the other MVC schools usually feel.
WSU must win tonight to get in an NCAA regional. And it must defeat the top seed on its home field.
The Shockers are playing in the title game away from Eck Stadium for the sixth time in 24 appearances. They are 3-3 in those games. But only once did WSU play the home team — a 22-6 win over Evansville in 1998.
Creighton, needless to say, is looking forward to use home-field advantage.
"It's where we wanted to be at this point," Creighton outfielder Clay Cuno said. "We have them at our place. We're having a great year, and the fans have been amazing."
Another chapter — The Bluejays talked as if playing WSU represents a piece of unfinished business.
Creighton won the regular season by a game over WSU, but the Shockers won two of three games at Eck Stadium. Servais wasn't happy with the way his team handled adversity in losing by a combined score of 20-3.
"It's a big rivalry," Creighton catcher Anthony Bemboom said. "We didn't feel real great about how the last series went against them, so we want another shot at them definitely."
WSU is 14-7-1 against the Bluejays in the tournament and 4-1-1 in the title game.
Still going — Missouri State pitcher J.C. Casey should make the all-tournament team, even if a new category needs to be invented.
Casey pitched 10 innings in relief on Friday, holding Creighton to five hits and no runs. He struck out 11.
Not bad for a guy who threw 28 innings in the regular season and struck out 20.
"He did everything humanly possible to keep us right there," MSU coach Keith Guttin said.
Casey's previous career highs were seven innings (in 2010) and six strikeouts (in 2009).
Casey started his career as a pitcher, but also caught and played the outfield and first base. If any Bears reliever pitched longer or better, nobody associated with the program could remember. He took himself out after 136 pitches after the 11th inning.
"I just tried to go as long as I could, as hard as I could," Casey said. "My slider was really good today, and I seemed to be able to throw that in any count."
The day belonged to unlikely heroes on the mound.
Creighton's Erik Mattingly earned his first win with two shutout innings. Mattingly made two appearances this season — Feb. 27 and May 15 — for a total of two innings.
Mattingly walked three, which prompted Servais to the mound twice.
"Sometimes these guys fear contact," Servais said. "It was going to take a walk or something kind crazy for either team to score. I said, 'Erik, just throw it in there. If he hits it over the scoreboard, we're OK with it.' "
Going their way — Creighton leads the tournament in unique scoring plays.
The Bluejays scored a run on a catcher's balk against Bradley. A wild pitch, during an intentional walk, scored a run against Southern Illinois. On Thursday, Creighton scored the tying run against Missouri State after a third strike eluded the catcher with two outs. Creighton scored the winning run on a sacrifice fly into foul territory in left field to set up Friday's rematch.
"The stars are lined up a little bit for Creighton baseball," Servais said.
Creighton 4, Missouri State 3 (12) —The Bluejays (43-14) scored the winning run on wild pitch by Dan Kickham with two outs.
Bemboom scored from third without a throw. Kickham's first pitch to Chance Ross bounced in the dirt and squired through the legs of catcher Brett Marshall.
Cuno drove in two runs for Creighton. MSU (33-23) stranded 14 runners. The Bears tied the game 3-all in the sixth.