Creighton cooked its chances of beating Kansas State on Tuesday by following a recipe for disaster.
Facing a Wildcat offense that ranks third nationally in batting average, Creighton pitchers handed out eight walks and hit a batter. Kansas State combined the free bases with nine hits in posting an almost methodical 6-3 win before 3,259 at TD Ameritrade Park.
“It's fairly amazing that we held them to six runs,” Creighton coach Ed Servais said, “when we gave them all that free stuff.”
Perhaps the only thing Servais hates more than walks is to watch a club play without energy. That's what he saw at the start of the game, and that's what he pointed out to his players in emphatic fashion in the locker room after the game.
“We didn't play with a lot of effort tonight, and that really hurt us,” Creighton second baseman Jake Peter said. “As coach has said a million times, as long as we play with effort, the score doesn't matter.
“We didn't do that tonight, and we need to change that this weekend.”
The Bluejays, who have lost their last two games to drop to 24-11, now head to Illinois State for a crucial Missouri Valley series against a Redbirds team that leads the league by percentage points over Wichita State and Missouri State.
Creighton trails the Redbirds by one game in the league standings but Servais said his team must play with more juice than it did Tuesday if it intends to challenge for a championship.
“We have to play with a little more energy and we have to execute the game a little better,” he said. “I don't have any issues with how we played over the weekend, but today was unacceptable.”
Creighton went 2-1 in last weekend's TD Ameritrade Classic, with the loss coming Sunday in a 6-5 decision to Oklahoma State. Kansas State recently lost a Big 12 series to the Cowboys but has bounced back to win five of its last six games in a 32-14 season.
Against Creighton, the Wildcats got solid efforts from their pitchers, although closer Tanner Witt had a little hiccup in the ninth in allowing the Bluejays to score their final two runs.
Kansas State's hitters kept the pressure on Creighton, scoring one run in the second against laboring Bluejays starter Taylor Elman. He walked four of the 11 hitters in throwing 29 balls in his 57 pitches over 1 2⁄3 innings.
Ross Kivett's single made it 1-0. After Creighton tied the game in the fourth, Kivett opened the fifth with a triple and scored on a groundout. The Wildcats made it 3-1 in the sixth, following a leadoff single by R.J. Santigate with a walk, a sacrifice and a groundout.
Kivett's second triple brought home a run in the eighth and Witt followed with a single to make it 5-1. Kansas State added its final run on a ninth-inning sacrifice fly.
“Those were two big two-out RBI base hits there in the eighth,” Kansas State coach Brad Hill said. “That gave us a little cushion, thank goodness.”
Picking up a win in Omaha at the end of April is nice. Playing here in mid-June is the dream of every college baseball player and coach.
Hill's team has positioned itself to at least be in the postseason conversation, but thinking about returning to TD Ameritrade in June is not a subject he wants to address at this point.
“We can't think about that at this point,” he said. “We just have to think about playing each day and controlling what we can control. We have to do what we've been doing — playing hard, playing unselfish and minimizing mistakes.
“We haven't been as good offensively this last week as we've been, but our pitching has started to come around a little bit. That's a mark of a good team, to see some things trade back and forth over the course of the year.”
If the Wildcats could get their hitters and pitchers producing at the same time, could they be an Omaha contender?
“Possibly,” Hill said. “We still have six road games in the Big 12. That's going to tell a lot about us over these next three weeks.”
>> The game was delayed 50 minutes by lightning and rain in the seventh inning.
>> Mark Winkelman tied a Creighton and Missouri Valley record when he made his 123rd career appearance. Winkelman relieved Elman with the bases loaded in the second and used a fly ball to end the inning. Winkelman then tacked on a perfect third inning in his 24th appearance of the season.
>> Creighton had eight hits but was 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position.
>> First baseman Reagan Fowler was hit by a pitch in the sixth inning to run his streak of reaching base safely to 31 games.
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