Fabian Herbers assured Creighton’s first new Big East competition Saturday ended with the sweet taste of victory.
The freshman’s goal with one minute and 55 seconds left in the second overtime lifted the fifth-ranked Bluejays to a 1-0 win over No. 7 St. John’s before a homecoming crowd of 5,282 at Morrison Stadium.
Herbers blasted a free kick from about 23 yards over a wall of Red Storm defenders and past goalkeeper Rafael Diaz, who had posted shutouts in his previous three matches.
“I saw the keeper on the left side of the goal, and I knew I was going to have to get it over the wall and into the right corner,” Herbers said. “That was my plan, and I finally did it.
“In front of this crowd, that was an awesome feeling.”
Herbers’ second goal of the season ended the defensive struggle between the teams that were picked second (Creighton) and fourth (St. John’s) in the league’s preseason poll. The Bluejays outshot the Red Storm 13-9 but put only one other attempt on goal.
Creighton goalkeeper Alex Bolowich had to make three saves in posting his second shutout of the season. Bolowich praised the work of the Bluejays’ back four defenders — Eric Miller, Brendan Hines-Ike, Jose Ribas and Vincent Keller.
“Eric and Brendan were spectacular,” Bolowich said. “Ribas and Vince did well on the outside, going up and down the lines. But in terms of being solid in the back and holding down the ground, Eric and Hines-Ike did an impressive job. I can’t thank them more.”
Still, Bolowich had to come up with a clutch save to get the match to overtime. With time dipping under 10 seconds in regulation, Daniel Herrera worked free and launched a rocket that Bolowich managed to get a hand on, tipping the ball over the crossbar.
“I knew what was coming with 10 seconds left on the clock,” he said. “I knew they were going to shoot it no matter what, so I was on my toes and ready. It was a great shot and the guy hit it well.
“I figured I owed Eric Miller and Brendan one, so I might as well tip it over.”
Creighton, which had scored 12 goals in its first five matches, had difficulty stringing together offensive challenges to Diaz, who had won the conference’s goalkeeper of the week award the previous two weeks and came into the match with a 0.65 goals-against average.
“St. John’s was really well organized and they made it difficult for us,” said Creighton coach Elmar Bolowich after his team improved to 5-1. “We knew they would be a tough nut to crack. They have a very good back line, a very good goalkeeper and they’re a well-coached team.
“This is one of the better teams that’s come to Morrison since I’ve been here.”
The Red Storm (5-2) had a four-match winning streak snapped.
“We played against a great team tonight,” St. John’s coach Dave Masur said. “They’re extraordinarily technical, they move the ball well, they’re strong and physical and they have some special guys that can make a difference.
“After the first 15 or 20 minutes, I thought we did pretty well on the road in a pretty excellent soccer environment. But Creighton is a fantastic team, one that is going to be knocking on the door all year.”
In addition to being Creighton’s first win in its new conference, the victory was the 400th in program history. Elmar Bolowich downplayed the significance of those achievements.
“You guys are the statisticians,” he told reporters. “I’m just looking forward to beating a good team. That’s all I care about. The 400th win would have happened anyway, maybe next week or the week after.
“This was a good team, and to get a win with 5,000 people in the stands and 1,000 students is what matters to me.”
His players, though, found special value in the significance of the victory.
“I think it motivated us big time and the crowd was amazing,” Alex Bolowich said. “This is the first and only time we’re going to have a Big East opener. That was significant, especially against a powerhouse team like St. John’s.”
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Video: Creighton-St. John's highlights: