The difference between Creighton and Missouri State has been paper thin in the opening two games of their Missouri Valley Conference series.
The Bluejays rallied for two runs in the ninth inning Thursday to post a one-run win. Friday, Eric Cheray dumped a two-out single into right field to produce the winning run in the Bears’ 3-2 victory in front of 12,581 at TD Ameritrade Park.
“It’s likely there will be another one like these two tomorrow,” Creighton coach Ed Servais said.
The teams enter Saturday’s 1 p.m. game tied for third place in the Valley at 12-8. The winner will claim the No. 3 seed for next week’s conference tournament, while the loser will be the No. 4 seed.
Missouri State coach Keith Guttin admitted there’s not much difference between heading to Normal, Ill., with either seed.
“It might be just feeling good about yourself going into the tournament,” Guttin said. “For us, we think we have some things squared away with our bullpen.
“You play all these close games, and you anticipate you’re going to play some more in the tournament. Your bullpen has got to be able to do it, and ours was very good tonight.”
Missouri State relievers Erik Shanahan and Grant Gordon didn’t allow a baserunner in the final 2 2⁄3 innings. Shanahan, who gave up the game-winning hit Thursday, relieved starter Jonathan Harris after Tommy Clouthier got the last of Creighton’s four hits with one out in the seventh.
Shanahan retired the five he faced and picked up the win when his teammates pushed across a run in the top of the ninth. Gordon struck out two of the three hitters he faced to record his fourth save.
Cheray’s hit came after Travis McComack had singled with one out against Jake Peter and Joey Hawkins had sacrificed McComack to second with a bunt. Some coaches would never call for a sacrifice with one out, but Guttin never hesitated in having his No. 9 hitter put down the bunt.
“He’s a good bunter,” Guttin said, “and how many times over two days has either team gotten three hits in a row? It’s tough to score in this park. If you can get a guy into scoring position, you have a shot.”
Cheray, who came to Omaha batting .316, got his first hit in the series when he got just enough of a 0-1 fastball from Peter to drop it into the right field.
“I’ve been struggling a little bit, working myself into bad counts,” Cheray said. “I wanted to be aggressive. I didn’t get all of it, but I got enough of it to find a hole that we needed.
“He got in on me a little bit, and luckily it fell for us.”
Peter had wanted to work inside against the left-handed-hitting Cheray.
“We wanted to pound him in,” Peter said. “I probably could have gotten in a little more on him, but he got a good hit right down the line. He did what he was supposed to.
“It goes back to the batters before him. I didn’t hit my spots, and they got a guy on base.”
Peter gave Creighton a 1-0 lead in the first when his groundout scored Brad McKewon, who had singled to open the inning. A sacrifice and passed ball advanced McKewon to third.
Missouri State scored an unearned run in the third on a throwing error by catcher Jerry Mitchell. The Bears went ahead in the fourth. Spencer Johnson and Conor Smith opened the inning with singles. A sacrifice and McComack’s sacrifice fly produced the run.
The Bluejays tied the game in their half of the inning when Reagan Fowler’s one-out triple scored Peter. Harris stranded Fowler at third, getting Brennan Murphy to pop up and Michael Blatchford to ground out.
“They just executed a little better than we did,” Servais said. “I don’t have any problem with what happened in the ninth. It’s what happened before that. We have to do a better job of defending.”
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