Alex Staehely has arrived where he is both in the field and at the plate because of necessity.
But the Creighton freshman is staying there because of confidence.
Thrust into a starting role at second base and now the No. 2 hitter in the batting order because of injuries, Staehely has more than made the most of his time, sparkling on defense and hitting the ball as well as any Bluejay entering this weekend’s Missouri Valley Conference series against Illinois State.
“One of his greatest strengths is that he likes to play baseball,” coach Ed Servais said. “You can’t underestimate how important that is for young guys. It’s been a pleasure to watch his development, and his rapid development.”
Staehely is hitting .325, second on the team, and he is doing it in big spots. He led off the bottom of the ninth inning against Indiana State Sunday with a double, eventually scoring the winning run to help Creighton avoid getting swept.
In his first dose of the rivalry with Nebraska, he blasted a first-inning home run Tuesday that was part of a three-RBI night. Staehely followed with a double and a triple against Kansas one night later in the Jays’ 5-4 loss.
“It’s just one of those things when you can’t really explain how it is,” Staehely said. “The ball just looks bigger.
“I read a quote from George Brett where he said when he was in a zone, he knew he was going to get a hit every time he was at bat. I can’t say that, but when I get up there, I feel like no pitcher is going to dominate me.”
Staehely is getting it done in the field, too. Against Kansas, he started a double play with a diving stop up the middle and flip without taking the ball out of his glove. It was the second dazzling play he made in the field, and one of many times the former shortstop has flashed the leather.
Not bad for a guy who was expected to spell returning starter Elliot Soto at shortstop and junior-college transfer Mike Mutcheson. When Mutcheson was sidelined with a back injury, Servais said he had no choice but to throw Staehely into the mix.
“Defense is the No. 1 priority,” Staehely said. “I knew that if I kept working hard on my defense and could get that down, the hitting would come.”
With starting center fielder Robbie Knight battling a hamstring injury, Staehely moved from his No. 9 spot to second behind Soto. In two games since the move, he’s 4 for 8 with three extra-base hits and four RBIs.
“I always feel confident when I play,” Staehely said. “When Coach Servais puts a freshman in the two hole, it shows me and a lot of guys that he’s got confidence in me to do more than just lay bunts down. I’m sure it gives everyone else confidence, too. Hitting is contagious.”
Servais hopes so. Creighton has struggled to come up with clutch hits. The Jays were 1 for 17 with runners in scoring position against Kansas.
“Too much has been going on between the ears,” Servais said. “They need to slow it down, take a deep breath. Slow it down and get a good pitch to hit.”
NOTES: Right-hander Jonas Dufek is expected to start for the Jays in Friday’s 4 p.m. opener. ... Servais said Knight is “unlikely to be involved” in Friday’s game, but he wouldn’t rule Knight out for Saturday or Sunday.
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