Almost everybody in Eck Stadium thought — or hoped — Wichita State’s Chris O’Brien tied the game with his swing in the ninth inning.
Everybody except O’Brien.
“Everyone knows how the Kansas wind is,” he said. “I hit it good, but I didn’t think anything of it because the wind was blowing in.”
Credit O’Brien for knowing his swing and the weather. He blasted the ball, and the fans roared and rose to watch it fall into the glove of Creighton right fielder Trever Adams at the wall. O’Brien settled for moving a runner to third instead of a three-run homer and Creighton escaped with a 7-5 victory on Saturday.
“Chris O’Brien hit a ball about as hard as it can be hit and not go out of here,” WSU coach Gene Stephenson said. “I don’t know how that ball stayed in the ballpark.”
WSU (29-22, 8-6 Missouri Valley Conference) fell two games behind first-place Creighton (32-11, 10-4) heading into today’s series finale.
The Bluejays will throw lefty Greg Hellhake, which is welcome new for the Shockers after they continued to struggle against right-handers. Creighton starter Jonas Dufek struck out 12 in seven innings and closer Kurt Spomer struck out the final two batters in the ninth.
Dufek’s changeup and slider kept the Shockers out of sorts, swinging at balls in the dirt and reaching for balls off the plate.
“Off-speed, off-speed, off-speed, off-speed,” Stephenson said. “We chased a lot of pitches that weren’t strikes. I think he only threw one fastball for a strike after the fourth inning.”
Despite falling into a 7-3 hole against Dufek, the Shockers made it interesting against the Creighton bullpen. WSU scored a run in the eighth to cut the lead to 7-4.
It almost got better in the ninth against Spomer. Tyler Grimes walked to start the inning. He moved to second on Kevin Hall’s single, bringing up O’Brien. His long out moved Grimes to third. Preston Springer spun a single over the second baseman to drive in Grimes and cut the lead to 7-5. Spomer struck out Johnny Coy and Tyler Coughenour with two runners on to end the threat and keep the Bluejays atop the MVC.
“We had two pretty good hitters up,” Stephenson said. “You can’t ask for much more than that.”
The Shockers needed more because the Bluejays ripped starter Brian Flynn for nine hits and seven runs. The Bluejays took a 2-1 lead in the fourth. WSU responded to take a 3-2 lead. Then Creighton regained the lead with five runs in the fifth.
Nick Judkins and Trever Adams singled, leading to a three-run homer by Alex Staehely for a 5-3 lead.
With Flynn falling behind and two runners on, Staehely looked for a first-pitch fastball and smacked it to left field.
“You get guys on and it gives you a little confidence,” Staehely said. “We just wanted to get something going to cut down their momentum. We had it, then they took it back and we were just trying to take it back.”
With Dufek in control, Creighton did just that.