Creighton freshman Tommy Strunc, who had won his past four starts, looked to be cruising to win No. 5 as he set down the first 12 UNO batters he faced Friday night.
But things went awry for Strunc in the fifth inning, and the Bluejays had to rely on a strong finish from their bullpen to hold off the hard-charging Mavericks 4-3 in front of 3,271 at TD Ameritrade Park.
Mark Winkelman scattered four hits in four innings and pitched the Bluejays (13-5) out of a fifth-inning jam, when the University of Nebraska at Omaha (5-13) threatened to break the game open. Jake Peter moved in from second base and pitched a perfect ninth inning for his third save of the season.
The appearance was Winkelman's 111th as a Bluejay, good for third in school history.
Creighton coach Ed Servais said he was puzzled by Strunc's sudden loss of control.
“He was as sharp as I've seen him all year the first four innings, and this is what you get out of a young pitcher sometimes,” Servais said. “You would hope that a veteran who throws six or seven straight balls could make an adjustment, but Tommy just wasn't able to. And he felt uncomfortable, and he looked uncomfortable.”
Zach Williamsen, one of eight starters this season for UNO, was pulled after three innings by coach Bob Herold after he struggled with his control and allowed the Bluejays to jump to a 2-0 lead
Herold said Williamsen's effectiveness decreased as he fell behind in the count.
“He was ineffective,” Herold said. “He was behind guys. Now you do that and they're going to pick their pitch or walk, and that is what they were doing.”
Creighton made it 3-0 in the fourth, getting a run off a balk by reliever Sam Murphy to score Brennan Murphy from third base.
Then things began to unravel for Strunc. He opened the fifth by walking Alex Schultz and Ryan Keele.
Cole Gruber followed with the Mavs' first hit of the game, an infield single to load the bases with no outs.
A five-pitch walk to Connor Messinger scored Schultz to make it 3-1 and end the day for Strunc. Winkelman came on with the bases loaded and nobody out.
Winkelman forced Tyler Splichal into a double play that scored Keele. Then the CU reliever ended the Mavs' threat by fanning Caleb Palensky.
After UNO knotted the game 3-3 in the sixth inning on a Schultz single that scored Brett Bass, Creighton regained the lead in the bottom of the inning on a sacrifice foul out that plated Kevin Lamb.
UNO threatened to tie the game in the seventh. Messinger led off with a single to left. Splichal followed by hammering a 1-0 Winkelman pitch into the gap in right-center, and Messinger headed for home.
But Messinger was cut down at the plate as second baseman Peter took the cutoff throw from Murphy in right and fired it to Lamb, who was able to block the plate and apply the tag to Messinger for the out.
“Probably should have just held the guy at third,” Herold said, “and now we got guys at second and third and nobody out and a chance to tie the game up.”
The teams will move to Werner Park for the second game of the series Saturday at 1 p.m. before the series finale at 1 p.m. Sunday at TD Ameritrade Park.
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