The resiliency Creighton has displayed repeatedly this season surfaced again Thursday afternoon.
Still stinging from Tuesday night's moribund effort against Nebraska, the Bluejays twice rallied from one-run deficits — the last time in the ninth inning — to produce a 4-3 Missouri Valley Conference victory against Missouri State at TD Ameritrade Park.
The Bears took a 2-1 lead in their half of the sixth only to see Creighton tie the game in the bottom of the inning with a run off Nick Petree, one of the league's top pitchers. Then after giving up an unearned run in the top of the ninth, the Bluejays tied the game on Tommy Clouthier's sacrifice fly and won it on Kevin Lamb's two-out single.
“This team has a ton of resilience,” Clouthier said. “We just have a lot of guys that step up and do their job.”
Clouthier, a backup infielder hitting .143, did his to tie the game. Reagan Fowler opened the ninth with a single and Brennan Murphy, who was attempting to advance the runner, beat out a bunt for a single.
“We knew as soon as that bunt was executed, we knew in the dugout that we were going to get them,” Creighton coach Ed Servais said. “That was probably the play in the bottom half of the ninth.
“We had a few in the top of the ninth that didn't go our way but Brennan gave us a shot.”
Michael Blatchford's sacrifice advanced the runners to second and third, bringing Clouthier to the plate to face Erik Shannahan. He had worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth, striking out Alex Staehely on a wicked slider.
Shannahan quickly put Clouthier in a 0-2 hole before the redshirt freshman took a ball, fouled off two pitches, took another ball and fouled off another pitch. Clouthier then lifted a fly ball to center field that brought home Fowler.
“I saw that the infield was back, so I was just trying to hit a ground ball and get the runner home,” Clouthier said. “I wanted to get that RBI any way possible.
“Their outfield was playing shallow on me and I thought when I first hit it that it might be able to get over his head. He tracked it down but I was pretty pumped up about getting that run in.”
Murphy held at second but scored when Lamb lashed a 0-2 pitch into center field to end the game.
“I was just trying to get something that I could take up the middle of the field,” Lamb said. “That's been pretty much my approach my whole life.
“I knew Murphy is our fastest runner, and I just wanted to give him a chance.”
Murphy beat the throw to the plate to ignite a celebration as the Bluejays opened the crucial three-game series with a win. The teams entered the game tied for third in the league, with Creighton moving to 29-15 and 12-7 in the Valley while Missouri State dropped to 29-27 and 11-8.
“I think this shows that we're going to see three competitive games,” Servais said. “I don't think there is much difference between the two teams. There's a style difference but this is a series that could come down to one or two pitches or one or two executed plays.”
Creighton took a 1-0 lead in the first on Staehely's two-out RBI double but the Bears moved ahead with two runs in the sixth. The Bluejays tied it in their half of the inning when Brad McKewon, who had three of Creighton's nine hits, doubled and scored on Jake Peter's single.
The Bluejays squandered an opportunity when they left the bases loaded in the eighth, then fell behind in the ninth when Missouri State took advantage of third baseman Federico Castagnini's inning-opening error. Keenen Maddox reached on the play and took second on a passed ball.
After Bryan Sova got the next two hitters to fly out, pinch-hitter Conor Smith greeted reliever Mark Winkelman with a single to center. McKewon fielded the hit and made a strong throw to the plate but Maddox avoided Lamb's tag.
“If you ask me, I put it on him,” Lamb said, smiling. “The umpire didn't think so. That's part of the game.”
The close call was forgotten when Creighton staged its game-winning rally.
“Winning the first game is so important,” Lamb said. “It's tough to win a series and even tougher when you're down a game. Winning this series could give us a lot of momentum to take to the conference tournament.”
NOTES: The game drew 9,537, the majority being elementary school students who were long gone before the late heroics. The Bluejays are expecting another big crowd Friday for the 7 p.m. Military Day game. … Austin Groth will start Friday in place of Nick Musec, who will not pitch in the series because of an undisclosed injury. Servais said Musec was to undergo an MRI exam Thursday night that could determine his availability for next week’s conference tournament. … Missouri State’s Jonathan Harris (8-1, 3.72 ERA) will oppose Groth (2-1, 4.85 ERA). … Sova didn’t figure into the decision but the junior right-hander turned in a highly efficient outing, needing 35 pitches to get through 3 2⁄3 innings. He allowed one hit in relief of Tommy Strunc, who opened with five scoreless innings before leaving after hitting a batter and walking another to open the sixth.
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