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Win over Xavier keeps Creighton baseball in Big East title race
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Win over Xavier keeps Creighton baseball in Big East title race

Nolan Clifford

Creighton's Nolan Clifford steals second base ahead of the tag from Xavier's Jack Housinger.

Creighton's Parker Upton wasn't able to deliver the exact clutch hit he was looking for with the game-winning run on third base in the bottom of the 10th inning.

But he won't complain about the outcome Friday night.

His bouncing grounder skipped by Xavier's first baseman and rolled into the outfield — an error, not a single. But that gave pinch runner Cam Frederick more than enough time to sprint home, clinch a 3-2 win for the Jays and keep them alive in the Big East regular season race.

It marked a critical moment for the Jays, who were dangerously close to taking a fifth loss over a six-game span during the most important stretch of the year. And they made sure to celebrate accordingly at TD Ameritrade Park, racing out of the dugout to mob Upton in the outfield.

"It's kind of unexplainable — just a rush," Upton said of the game's final play and the subsequent celebration. "It was fun, for sure."

That walk-off sequence came one half-inning after the Musketeers took a 2-1 lead in the top of the 10th.

Xavier's been the aggressor in each game so far, jumping ahead with early leads and holding off any CU attempt to flip the momentum. The Musketeers won 10-5 Thursday and secured a 6-2 victory in the first game of Friday's doubleheader. And they appeared to follow a similar script in the nightcap.

Until the bottom of the 10th.

"We caught a little fire at the end and we played with that emotion — that we have had for the better part of the year — for the last couple innings of the second game," coach Ed Servais said.

Perhaps it'll be the spark the Jays' hitters needed. They'd struggled during the first 21 innings of this series to come through in clutch situations. They're still just 5 of 27 with runners in scoring position (.185) against the Musketeers this week.

But they produced some key at-bats when it mattered most Friday night.

Freshman Nolan Clifford began the 10th on second base and moved to third on pinch hitter Evan Spry's bunt single. After sophomore Andrew Meggs walked, Clifford scored on a wild pitch to tie the game at 2-2. Then Upton reached on an error when his bouncer down the first-base line wasn't handled by Luke Franzoni.

"We did have a lot of confidence," Upton said. "Obviously we hadn't been hitting the ball all weekend long. But we felt it was just a matter of time before we capitalized on the opportunities that they gave us."

The Jays likely wouldn't have been in that late-game situation without the relief effort of Paul Bergstrom. The sophomore left-hander didn't give up a run in six innings of work, striking out five and surrendering just four hits. It was the longest outing of his career.

Now Creighton (22-13, 14-6) hopes to build off its dramatic victory when it takes the field for the regular season finale at noon Saturday.

To win a second-straight Big East regular season title, CU must beat Xavier and it needs Seton Hall to defeat UConn (29-16, 12-4). The Huskies have won the first three games of the series against the Pirates this week. Those two teams also play at noon Saturday.


Omaha World-Herald: Local Sports

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