The priorities of a new season are often times set by the failures of the near past.
Given that, it doesn’t take a master of baseball strategy to know what’s on Creighton coach Ed Servais’ mind as the Bluejays begin preparations for the upcoming season.
Creighton opened 2009 with six straight losses. A month into the season, the Bluejays were 3-11.
They wouldn’t hit the break-even point of a season that eventually saw them fall just short of making the NCAA tournament until early April.
“It felt like we were playing catch-up the entire season,’’ Servais said. “We never got on top of things until the end.’’
By the time his players arrived for Friday’s 5:30 a.m. opening practice, they had already heard Servais talk about the need to get this season off to a faster, cleaner start a half-dozen times. They’ll likely hear it a half-dozen more before they open Feb. 20 with a doubleheader against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and Central Arkansas.
“I’m sure the guys are ready to move on, but I’m not,’’ Servais said. “We have to make sure we’re ready to come out of the chute. We’re not going to settle for any excuses. We’re not going to blame the weather.
“I want us to be more aggressive. Looking back, we were a little tentative in coming out of the box last season. This year, we want to force the issue. We want to be more competitive, right from the start.’’
Servais figures he has a team that should be capable of doing that. The Bluejays return starters at five positions from a 31-25 team, including the three — catcher, shortstop and center field — that their coach considers the most important on the diamond.
Carson Vitale hit .261 in starting more than half of Creighton’s 56 games last season behind the plate. Elliot Soto committed just nine errors at shortstop and hit .322, while Robbie Knight is back for his fourth year as a starter in center field.
The Bluejays also have starters back at third in Jimmy Swift and right field in T.J. Roemmich. Ian Dike figures to take over at first base after playing behind Darin Ruf the past three seasons.
On the mound, the expected return to health of Mike Nihsen and Greg Hellhake raises hopes for a solid weekend rotation. Nihsen missed the final half of last season and, like Hellhake, did not pitch in the fall.
Both have appeared close to 100 percent in individual workouts, Servais said. If they are, they’ll join junior Jonas Dufek in the rotation.
“Jonas is a guy we feel has a high ceiling, and he really grew a lot last year,’’ Servais said. “He won some big games. With Mike and Greg and Jonas, we have a good combination. They all pitch differently. You don’t want three guys that throw identical.’’
Brandon Koenigstein, who went 5-0 as a freshman and no-hit Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, also is back. If Hellhake and Nihsen are healthy, he could be the midweek starter that Servais covets. He also could fill a weekend spot if needed.
Ty Blach, a freshman from Denver, pitched well in the fall and also figures into the mix. The bullpen is experienced, with seniors Bob Lackovic and Matt Patterson and junior Jack VanLeur back.
Servais said he is encouraged that the Bluejays are relatively healthy as they start preseason practice. One concern is the balky back of junior-college transfer Mike Mutcheson, who is expected to battle freshman Alex Staley for the second base job.
“He had a little setback in our first day, but that’s not totally unusual because there’s a little more intensity in the first workouts,’’ Servais said. “Mike has a lot of experience against some strong competition, but we just don’t know about his health at this point.’’
NOTES: Ben Kline, who transferred to Creighton after playing his first two seasons at Nebraska, left the team last fall. ... Pitcher Otto Roberts transferred to a junior college after seeing limited action last fall. “It was an academic issue dealing with a major that we don’t offer,’’ Servais said. Roberts, a 23rd-round draft pick by Cleveland out of high school, went 1-0 with a 1.47 ERA in four games as a freshman last season. ... Outfielder Jordan Makovicka will redshirt after transferring from Nebraska, where he played football as a freshman in 2008.
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