Creighton won't play its first game at Omaha's new downtown baseball stadium for another two months, but TD Ameritrade Park already has had an impact on the Bluejays.
It's created an excitement among the players that resulted in a heightened attention to detail during fall practice. Coach Ed Servais called it the most productive fall session in his 14 seasons at Creighton.
The juice from fall drills carried into the individual workouts that preceded last week's start of preseason practice.
“The guys have been very responsive to everything we've asked them to do,” Servais said. “Not that our other teams haven't. But everyone is on the same page, and I hope that continues.”
There were times during last season's 27-25 campaign when it didn't appear that the Bluejays were reading from the same book. Creighton finished sixth in the regular season and got bounced from the Missouri Valley tournament in three games. The inconsistency last spring left the players with a sour taste, outfielder Trever Adams said, that has strengthened their resolve this season.
“The difference in the team chemistry is night and day,” Adams said. “It's hard to explain, but it's like we all have each other's backs. We feel we have good talent on this team, and we feel that we can be successful if we stick together.”
Creighton's returning talent includes four starting position players and four pitchers who have been members of the weekend rotation. Overall, 20 lettermen are back, including fifth-year seniors Jack VanLeur and Greg Hellhake on the mound and infielder Jimmy Swift.
“I've never returned three fifth-year guys, and I'm banking on those guys to provide some leadership,” Servais said. “We've never returned our entire weekend rotation. And Greg Hellhake, two years ago, was our Friday night starter. I'm hoping that experience will help us.”
Starting pitchers Jonas Dufek, Brandon Koenigstein and Ty Blach went a combined 16-8 last season. Blach (3-3) earned freshman All-America honors while Dufek (8-3) was a second-team all-conference pick.
VanLeur has appeared in 81 games in his first three seasons and returns to anchor a rebuilt bullpen. Inconsistency at the back end of the staff contributed heavily to last season's struggles as the relievers combined to go 8-14 and save just nine games.
Creighton brought in two closers — Reese McGraw and Chase Webb — who had success on the junior college level. They'll team with VanLeur, Mark Winkelman and Kurt Spomer to give the bullpen a different look.
“I'm excited about what we might be able to do with this bullpen,” Servais said
Adams, an honorable mention to the All-Valley team, led Creighton in batting (.356), homers (12) and RBIs (58) last season. Swift, who will move from third base to shortstop, hit .296 with 26 RBIs. The other two returning starters are catcher Scott Thornburg (.275, four homers) and second baseman Alex Staehely (.240, 28 RBIs).
Creighton opens its season Feb. 19 with two games at the USA Baseball national training facility in Cary, N.C. The Bluejays will play the first game at TD Ameritrade April 19 against Nebraska. They have 11 other games scheduled at the stadium in addition to the Valley tournament.
“Playing there will add a little pressure,” Swift said. “We're looking to turn it into excitement. We can't wait.”
February: 19, Toledo at Cary, N.C., 11 a.m. 19, Canisius at Cary, N.C., 3 p.m. 20, Canisius at Cary, N.C., 11 a.m. 22, at Kansas, 3 p.m. 25, at New Mexico, 4 p.m. 26, at New Mexico (dh), 1 p.m. 27, at New Mexico, 1 p.m.
March: 4, at Arkansas State, 6 p.m. 5, at Arkansas State, 4 p.m. 6, at Arkansas State, 1 p.m. 8, at Central Arkansas, 6 p.m. 9, at Central Arkansas, 9 p.m. 11, South Dakota State, 3 p.m. 12, South Dakota State, 2 p.m. 13, South Dakota State, 1 p.m. 16, at Air Force (dh), noon. 19, at SIU Edwardsville, TBA. 19, Valparaiso at Edwardsville, Ill., 1 p.m. 21, BYU, 3 p.m. 22, BYU, 1 p.m. 26, North Dakota (dh), 1 p.m. 27, North Dakota, 1 p.m. 28, North Dakota State, 3 p.m.
April: 1, Portland, 4 p.m. 2, Portland, 2 p.m. 3, Portland, 1 p.m. 5, at Nebraska, 6:30 p.m. 8, at Illinois State, 4:30 p.m. 9, at Illinois State, 2 p.m. 10, at Illinois State, 1 p.m. 12, Kansas State, 3 p.m. 15, at Indiana State, 6 p.m. 16, at Indiana State, 1 p.m. 17, at Indiana State, noon. 19, Nebraska, 6:30 p.m. 22, Southern Illinois, 6:30 p.m. 23, Southern Illinois, 2 p.m. 24, Southern Illinois, 1 p.m. 26, Kansas, 6:30 p.m. 29, Bradley, 6:30 p.m. 30, Bradley, 6:30 p.m.
May: 1, Bradley, 1 p.m. 6, at Wichita State, 6:30 p.m. 7, at Wichita State, 2 p.m. 8, at Wichita State, 7 p.m. 10, Nebraska, 7 p.m. 13, at Evansville, 6 p.m. 14, at Evansville, 2 p.m. 15, at Evansville, 1 p.m. 17, at Iowa, 6:05 p.m. 19, Missouri State, noon. 20, Missouri State, 7 p.m. 21, Missouri State, 1 p.m. 24-28, Missouri Valley tournament.
Note: Home games in March and April 1, 2, 3, and 12 played at CU Sports Complex. All other home games and Missouri Valley tournament at TD Ameritrade Park.
Pitchers: Greg Hellhake, Sr.; Reese McGraw, Jr.; Kurt Spomer, Jr.; Erik Mattingly, Jr.; Matt Hartmann, Fr.; Ryan Price, Fr.; Andrew Ostapowicz, Fr.; Ty Blach, So.; Chase Webb, Jr.; Mark Winkelman, So.; Brandon Koenigstein, Jr.; Jack VanLeur, Sr.; John Sorenson, So.; Nick Musec, So.; Jonas Dufek, Sr.
Catchers: Joey Bowens, Jr.; Scott Thornburg, Jr.; Anthony Bemboom, Jr.
Infielders: Chance Ross, Jr.; Jimmy Swift, Sr.; Nick Judkins, Jr.; Vince Bellino, Sr.; Alex Staehely, So.; Michael Mutcheson, Jr.; Gabriel Thibodeaux, Jr.
Outfielders: Brad McKewon, Fr.; Jordan Makovicka, So.; Jerry Mitchell, Fr.; Mike Gerber, Fr.; Clay Cuno, Sr.; Trever Adams, Sr.; Michael Blatchford, So.
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