SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Tuesday's Missouri Valley tournament game against Indiana State provided Creighton with some long-awaited redemption.
The Bluejays dusted aside the frustration of finishing last in the regular season by dusting off the top-seeded Sycamores 5-0 at Hammons Field. Creighton got a dominating performance from Ty Blach, gold-glove defense from its fielders and 10 hits from its lightweight offense in moving into Wednesday's Bracket A winners' game against Illinois State.
“We've been talking about this conference tournament for a long time now,'' Creighton coach Ed Servais said. “Ty knew he was going to get his chance to show what he can do, and he certainly did his part.''
With a dozen or so professional scouts looking on, the junior left-hander gave up only a second-inning infield single in notching his first Valley win of the season. If Tuesday proves to be his last game in a Creighton uniform — Blach is projected to be a fifth- or sixth-round pick in next month's draft — he saved his best for last.
“When we saw Ty come out pounding the strike zone, it just gave us a lot of confidence,' third baseman Chance Ross said, “We knew we just needed to make the plays behind him, and everything just came together for us.''
The win improved Creighton to 23-28 and advanced the defending tournament champion into a 4 p.m. game Wednesday against the Redbirds, who opened Tuesday's schedule with a 10-3 mauling of Evansville.
“Getting the first game is always important,'' Blach said. “Now we have to look past today and start looking toward tomorrow. We know how important that game is.''
It would only be human nature for the Bluejays to want to hang onto Tuesday's game a bit longer. Loaded with experience from last season's NCAA tournament team, Creighton was picked second in the preseason poll.
But things unraveled on the Bluejays from the start of conference play, and they became just the third team in Valley history to go from first to last in back-to-back seasons. They've known for the past seven weeks that winning the tournament would be their only chance to extend their season past May.
They'll have a chance if they can string together three more performances like Tuesday's. Blach obviously set the tone by not allowing a Sycamore past second base.
He struck out six, walked two and hit a batter. The only hit Blach allowed came when Rob Ort opened the second with an infield single. A one-out walk moved Ort to second but he was thrown out at third trying to advance on a pitch in the dirt.
Blach ended the second with a strikeout, and Indiana State never threatened again. At one point, Blach retired 18 straight while facing a lineup that had hung a season-high five runs on him when he faced Indiana State in Omaha on April 6.
He gave up six hits in that start but also walked three and hit three batters.
“We beat him before because we got walks and runners on base,'' Indiana State catcher Jeremy Lucas said. “He was really good today in locating his pitchers and keeping us off balance. We have to tip our hats to him.''
In turn, Blach tipped his to the guys that backed up his virtuoso, 109-pitch performance.
“My defense was tremendous today,'' he said. “I was just trying to use those guys all day long and let them make plays. They did.''
Creighton, the league's most offensively challenged team, got nine of its 10 hits off left-hander Sean Manaea, who had pitched nine shutout innings against the Bluejays in April. Ross had three of the hits and three RBIs, while Brennan Murphy, who came into the game hitting .221, had two hits and drove in the first run.
Murphy's two-out single scored Mike Gerber in the fifth. Manaea, who has a funky pickoff move, almost got out of the inning without further damage when he caught Murphy leaning. He got in a rundown but Indiana State shortstop Tyler Wampler dropped the ball, allowing Murphy to get back to first.
Manaea walked the next two hitters before Ross laced a two-run single to push the lead to 3-0.
“In a close game, an important game, it comes down to a simple mistake,'' Indiana State coach Rick Heller said. “Not being able to execute the rundown cost us runs.
“What that also did was push up Manaea's pitch count. You hate to say it was all on one mistake but it changed the whole game.''
Creighton tacked on two more runs in the seventh on an RBI single by Ross and Scott Thornburg's bases-loaded groundout. Five runs was more than enough cushion for Blach, who has not allowed an earned run in his last 27-1/3 innings.
He came within an out of shutting out Dallas Baptist in a May 11 game before an error with two outs in the ninth gave the Patriots their only run. He limited Wichita State to three hits in seven innings of last Thursday's start in Omaha.
He then turned in a career-defining performance against the Sycamores.
“We talked several weeks ago about just enjoying the game,'' Servais said. “Sometimes juniors get caught up in the draft. They get distracted. I give Ty a lot of credit.
“He let that other part go, and the last month, he's been as good as any pitcher you can have. What he did against a very good offensive club today was not an easy task. He dominated them.''
Contact the writer: