You’ll understand if Creighton coach Ed Servais doesn’t spend much time talking with his players about the Missouri Valley Conference portion of the 2012 regular season.
That was the 20-game stretch where the Bluejays lost 14 times while compiling a .215 batting average. That was before Creighton, after finishing last, won the Valley’s postseason tournament to salvage an NCAA tournament bid.
“We do dwell on a couple of things that we’re trying to correct, but we haven’t talked with them about the regular season (as a whole),” Servais said. “We’ve been more focused on certain parts of the game that we want to correct and we trust that the results will be there at the end if we fix those things.
“Offense is one of those things we wanted to correct, and we think we have.”
Creighton (10-4) enters league play with a three-game series this weekend at Evansville, with games at Braun Stadium scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
After struggling all 2012 and finishing at .251, so far this season the Jays lead the Valley with a .305 team batting average and .415 on-base percentage. They rank second with a .397 slugging percentage.
“We’re a much better club offensively,” Servais said. “We’re balanced. From 1 through 9, I don’t think you can take a player or two away and shut us down.
“We’re much more disciplined — we’re not swinging at balls out of the zone and our walk total (70) is high and our strikeout total (75) is low. That leads to having a lot of baserunners, and then it’s a matter of whether or not you drive them in.”
Servais said his five returning position-playing starters have improved over last season, with a combination of factors playing a part.
“(Hitting coach) Spencer Allen has done a good job working with the hitters,” Servais said. “The expectations for this team are different than last year, and that’s a key. And they all knew they had to adjust their swings to our (spacious) stadium (TD Ameritrade Park). Their swings are flatter, which leads to more line drives and ground balls, and that’s conducive to more offense, no matter where you’re playing.”
Sophomore Jake Peter leads the Valley with a .433 average and .507 on-base percentage, while sophomore Kevin Lamb is second in the league with a .405 average and freshman Reagan Fowler is fifth at .380.
A little more offensive punch is helpful for what Servais expects to be a tightly-packed, pitching-rich Valley race.
“In my 16 years as part of this league, it’s the best the league has been from top to bottom,” Servais said. “Every weekend is going to be a very challenging weekend. You used to be able to count on a couple of teams having down years, but right now there are some really good Friday night starters in this league.”
The Purple Aces (8-12) have a couple of pitching aces in left-hander Kyle Freeland (2-3, 2.65 ERA) and righty Kyle Lloyd (2-2, 2.65). Each is tied for fifth in the league in ERA and rank first (Lloyd) and second (Freeland) in strikeouts with 41 and 35, respectively. Freeland pitched a three-hit, 1-0 shutout against Creighton last season.
Creighton counters with Tommy Strunc (3-0, 3.91) on Friday and Nick Musec (0-2, 5.12) on Saturday. Each team is waiting to name its Sunday starter.
Servais said he’d like his team to have a few more games under its belt before starting Valley play. He’d like to have a clearer picture of who his Sunday starter will be and would like to more clearly define his team’s bullpen roles.
“But the schedule says it opens this weekend, so we’ve got to go,” he said.
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