In the process of sending out its seniors on a high note, Creighton tuned up to make a run at a third straight Missouri Valley tournament championship.
The Bluejays scored three runs without a hit in the third inning, then used Jake Peter’s two-run double in the sixth to seal a 6-3 victory over Missouri State.
The win, before a Senior Day crowd of 2,961 Saturday at TD Ameritrade Park, allowed Creighton (30-16, 13-8) to claim the No. 3 seed for this week’s tournament in Normal, Ill. The Bluejays will open the tournament with a 9 a.m. game Tuesday against Indiana State.
“I’m kind of a history nut, and we’ve been in the championship game five of the last nine years,” Creighton coach Ed Servais said. “I think history holds well with us. We play a conference tournament-style of baseball, with an emphasis on defense and creating runs.”
The teams entered the series tied for third place, knowing that the winner would advance with the higher seed.
Saturday’s game swung on an errant throw made by losing pitcher Andy Cheray in the third inning.
Trailing 2-1, the Bluejays opened their third with Federico Castagnini and Peter drawing walks. Alex Staehely tried to advance the runners with a bunt but pushed it right back to Cheray, who fielded the ball, wheeled toward third base and unleashed a wild throw down the left-field line.
Castagnini and Peter scored on the play, while Staehely wound up on second base. He eventually scored on Kevin Lamb’s sacrifice fly to make it 4-2.
Missouri State (30-21, 12-9) closed to within a run in its half of the sixth when Luke Voit raced home on a bases-loaded wild pitch. But the Bears left the sacks full when CU pitcher Nick Highberger got Eric Cheray to hit into a force play at second.
After taking Staehely’s toss to record the out, Peter had to avoid a hard slide by the Bears’ Joey Hawkins. Peter turned and glared at Hawkins as he ran off the field, and Servais had some words with home plate umpire Brett Bruington about the play, which added to the general chippiness of the contest.
“The energy in our dugout picked up after that play,” Peter said. “I knew that when I went to the plate there in the sixth that I had to put the ball in play to get us a run.”
Creighton loaded the bases to open the inning, but Castagnini hit into a double play, leaving runners at second and third. Peter brought them home by lashing his 10th double into the gap in left-center field to provide the Jays with the winning margin.
“One of the things we’ve been lacking is that two-out hit,” Servais said. “They had all the momentum, and we needed a big hit in that situation. Jake’s our best guy right now, and if they had to do it over again, they might have decided not to pitch to him.
“But they did, and he rose up and got a big hit. That was a difference-maker right there.”
Mark Winkelman, one of the six seniors honored before the game, made just his third start in 129 career appearances. He gave up a run in the first, struck out the side in the second and left after allowing two hits to open the third.
“I would have liked to come out of the bullpen here one last time, but starting the last game I’ll play here is really special,” Winkelman said. “And even if it’s just a couple of hours, I’ll get a little extra rest before I have to pitch again.”
Winkelman recorded a career first when he struck out the three hitters in the second.
“That’s definitely a good way to go out,” he said.
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