Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson summed up the game as quickly as possible and headed to the locker room to try to figure out a way to salvage something from this series.
We will find out Sunday if the lengthy post-game meeting helped. On Saturday, Creighton defeated WSU 3-1 to dump the Shockers out of first place in the Missouri Valley Conference and win its first series at Eck Stadium since 2003. The Bluejays will leave for the Big East with a bit of bragging rights over the Shockers, who traditionally dominated the series.
Not this weekend. So far, it’s all about Creighton’s pitching, its air-tight defense and Shocker mistakes.
WSU (30-24, 14-6) managed four hits and repeatedly let Bluejays starter Nick Musec escape trouble. He walked six, but the Shockers failed to figure out his changeup and spent the game swinging too hard and too soon. No adjustments. No hits until the fifth inning. More of the same against reliever Mark Lukowski, who pitched four shutout innings.
“You have to almost approach it like slow-pitch softball,” Stephenson said. “If you don’t do that and square up some balls, they’re going to keep doing the same thing. We went through the lineup three times and nobody made much of an adjustment.”
The Shockers, even after two disappointing losses, aren’t out of the MVC race. They trail first-place Illinois State (32-18, 12-5) by percentage points and let third-place Creighton (28-13, 11-6) back into the race. A win Sunday assures WSU of finishing first or second and keeps the pressure on Illinois State, which finishes MVC play next weekend at Southern Illinois. Illinois State, which lost Friday to help the Shockers, rebounded with a 17-3 win over Evansville on Saturday.
To sum up, the Shockers blew a great opportunity to clinch. A win Sunday restores some hope of grabbing their first MVC title since 2010 and the top seed in the conference tournament.
“We’re going to have to regroup,” Stephenson said. “We didn’t respond very well. We just didn’t respond the last two days at all.”
The Bluejays took a 1-0 lead in the fifth when WSU shortstop Erik Harbutz dropped a groundball, while looking toward second, with two outs and runners on first and third. In the sixth, two walks, one intentional, turned into two, two-out runs and a 3-0 lead. Creighton pinch-hitter Landon Lucansky singled off reliever Aaron LaBrie — Creighton’s second pinch hit this season — to drive in Alex Staehely. No. 9 hitter Jerry Mitchell singled to right to score Brennan Murphy for a 3-0 lead.
That gave Creighton pitching plenty of room, even after WSU scored in the bottom of the sixth. The Shockers stranded eight runners, five in scoring position. Casey Gillaspie doubled for the lone extra-base hit, a ball that Creighton coach Ed Servais protested went foul down the first-base line. Musec struck out Garrett Bayliff and Tyler Baker with a runner on third in the first inning. In the fourth, he walked two batters and escaped by striking out Gillaspie and inducing a ground ball from Micah Green. An inning later, WSU left the bases loaded when Bayliff grounded out to second.
Lukowski relieved Musec with two on in the sixth and held WSU to one run on a sacrifice fly by Harbutz. He stranded a runner at third in the eighth and retired WSU in order in the ninth.
The Bluejays happily threw the Shockers soft strikes and let them beat the ball into the ground. With one of the nation’s best infield defenses, the plan works and Creighton played most of Friday and all of Saturday on its terms.
“Playing in front of a defense that helps you out so much really takes off a lot of pressure,” Lukowski said. “You know if they’re going to put the ball in play, there’s a really good chance your defense is going to help you. One of our big goals is to throw strikes, pitch to contact and let our defense to the work.”
WSU’s loss ruined a solid outing by starter A.J. Ladwig, who rebounded from a nightmare a week ago at Missouri State. Ladwig struck out a career-high seven and allowed two earned runs in 5 2/3 innings. He used his curveball to get strikeouts and located his fastball with precision to finish off batters.
“He threw the breaking ball down in the zone and kept them off balance,” Stephenson said.
E — Dearman, Harbutz. DP —.Creighton LOB — Creighton 6, WSU 8. 2B — Gillaspie (14). S — Fowler. SF — Harbutz. SB — Dearman (6), Doggess (9), Mucha 2 (9). CS — Mucha.
|Ladwig L,4-5||5 2/3||5||3||2||2||7||5.18|
WP — Musec. Umpires — Greg Mudd, home; tim Cordill, first; Terry Harrison, third. T — 2:28. A — 3,458.