With a Creighton bullpen badly in need of some rest, freshman hurler Tommy Strunc turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.
Strunc scattered three hits in 713 innings on 114 pitches while striking out eight and walking four to lift Creighton to a 7-2 win over the University of the Pacific in front of a season-opening TD Ameritrade Park crowd of 2,246.
Strunc, who improved to 3-0, was dominant through seven innings, allowing just two hits, but began to falter when he hit the 100-pitch mark in the eighth inning with a 7-0 cushion.
He opened the eighth by striking out Jason Taasaas, but then allowed back-to-back walks and a two-run double to Brett Sullivan as Pacific cut the Bluejay lead to 7-2.
“At a hundred pitches I started to get a little fatigued, but it helps when your defense is out there making plays for you all day,” Strunc said.
Creighton coach Ed Servais said the 114-pitch effort by Strunc couldn’t have come at a better time. Six relievers worked seven innings in the Bluejays’ 4-1 win against North Dakota on Thursday
“We got a good performance out of Tommy Strunc, which we needed,” Servais said. “Some of our relievers are a little tired, a little beat up right now.
“It was very, very important that our starter got us deep into the game.”
Creighton, seeing its first action of the season in mammoth TD Ameritrade Park, roughed up Tiger pitching with five runs in the first two innings. The Jays played small ball to build their lead, scoring without an extra-base hit and even throwing in a squeeze bunt for good measure.
Jake Peter, who got his first save as a Bluejay pitcher Thursday against North Dakota, continued his recent offensive onslaught by going 4 for 5 with three RBIs.
Peter, who is now 12 for 25 over Creighton’s last six games, raised his average to .404. He said the Bluejays have been working on using their home stadium to their advantage.
“That’s really our mindset,” Peter said. “Staying flat to the ball and hitting hard ground balls and line drives all over the field.
“This ballpark, the ball doesn’t travel very good, so we’ve just got to focus on hitting line drives.”
Creighton took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Alex Staehely that scored Federico Castagnini, then blew the game open in the second after loading the bases.
Castagnini drew a two-out walk off Pacific starter Mike Hager to score Reagan Fowler and stake CU to a 2-0 lead, then Peter worked his count full to send all three Bluejay runners in motion on the next pitch.
He drove a hard single up the middle that deflected off second base, and Jordan Makovicka, Brad McKewon and Castagnini took advantage of the wild bounce as all three made it home to put the Bluejays up 5-0.
Jake Jenkins came on in the fifth inning to relieve Hager, who was charged with five earned runs in four innings on six hits and three walks.
The Bluejays jumped all over Jenkins as Staehely drove a 3-1 pitch to left for a single, and Fowler followed with a base hit to put Jays at the corners with no outs.
Murphy followed by laying down a squeeze bunt to score Staehely and advance Fowler to second.
After Fowler took third on a passed ball, Makovicka skied a long fly ball to left to score Fowler and give Creighton a 7-0 lead.
Meanwhile, Strunc was cruising as he held Pacific to one hit through six innings while fanning four and issuing a pair of walks.
Matt Warren relieved Strunc in the eighth inning and closed it out for Creighton.
The Bluejays and Tigers continue the three-game series at 2 p.m. Saturday at TD Ameritrade Park.
Nick Musec (0-1, 5.02 ERA) is expected to start for CU while Cory Popham (1-0, 2.25) takes the hill for the Tigers.
Pacific (5-11) ........................... 000 000 020—2 3 2
At Creighton (9-3) ........................... 140 020 00x—7 9 0
W: Strunc, 3-0. L: Hager, 0-2. 2B: UP, Sullivan (5). A: 2,620.