Finishing their first regular season in the "New" Big East with a 26-26 record, it looked like an at-large bid or even any bid at all into the NCAA Tournament would not be possible. But just like the old saying goes in baseball, "It ain't over 'til it's over". And Xavier clinched an at-large bid to the national tournament despite that mediocre record, leaving their mark by shutting out the Creighton Bluejays 5-0 on a beautiful day at MCU Park in Coney Island.
Creighton and Xavier played each other three times in the regular season and Creighton won two of the three games. And in the early stages of the tournament, Creighton demolished Xavier when they faced each other on the first day.
But this game was highlighted by a strong offensive performance by Xavier and a pitching clinic by their starter Trent Astle. Astle, who did not pitch that well in the regular season, posting a 5.09 ERA and a 4-4 record, stepped up his game to another level in the spotlight. He pitched a complete game and only gave up three hits and one walk. He had a bit of trouble in the first inning, but was able to get himself together for the rest of his remarkable outing.
"He was hitting his spots and staying away, for the most part," Mike Gerber of Creighton said. "It’s nothing we hadn’t seen all year. That’s not to take anything away from him — he pitched great."
Xavier’s scoring was not just in one inning, instead spread out, with runs scored in the third, fourth and fifth. The Musketeer first baseman Joe Forney knocked in the first run of the game when he singled to right field and then advanced to third on a fielding error. Mitch Elliot, the team's right fielder scored on the ensuing error.
In the latter part of the inning, Xavier catcher Daniel Rizzie scored the second run of the inning on a sacrifice fly to left field. In the following innings, Forney drove in another run with a single and Stephen Schoettmer rattled home two runs on a single.
"We had a misplay in the outfield, which we don’t normally do," Creighton head coach Ed Servais said. "That created some energy for them, and to their credit, they used it."
Just about the only thing disappointing about the championship game was the minuscule crowd. The conference decided to move the tournament back to the borough of Brooklyn where the games were played in 2007, which makes sense because the conference is, after all, The Big East and encompasses mostly teams in the northeast region. Two out of the four teams in the tournament were from the Tri-State area in St. John’s and Seton Hall, who both had great regular season. But both unfortunately failed to make the big game. This was probably the biggest factor and unlike college basketball, college baseball is not nearly as big and it is not big in this region, so fans not in the Tri-State Area like from Creighton and from Xavier probably did not feel compelled to make the commute like they did in the basketball tournament.
Xavier will find out their seeding and first opponent in the NCAA Baseball Tournament on Monday at Noon ET on ESPNU. This is the Musketeers' first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2009 when they clinched an at-large bid with an Atlantic 10 Baseball Tournament championship.