The antipathy of defeat can rouse a baseball team to perform at greater heights when their season begins anew. Since joining the BIG EAST, Creighton has been heralded as one of the premier baseball programs the 7-team conference, bringing a state-of-the art championship setting for a baseball field and a greater bounty of recruiting talent from the midwest and west coast. In both years since the Bluejays joined, they've reached the championship game only to fall just short of claiming the title.
Last year, the Jays hosted the BIG EAST tournament on their home turf, yet failed to get by Ryan McCormick and the Red Storm. The year before, the 4th seeded Xavier Musketeers battled their way through the losers bracket (Creighton put them there in the first game of the series) and took the BIG EAST crown against Creighton.
This year, the Jays are stacked with talent. With 22 upper classmen headlining their roster, there isn't a team in the conference with as much experience, especially when it comes to heartbreak. There also isn't a team in conference that has as much speed and defensive prowess as the Bluejays, who bring back SS Nicky Lopez, OF Brett Murray, 2B Ryan Fitzgerald, and BIG EAST first team representative Reagan Fowler.
So, what do the Bluejays have for opponents this season? What are some key players to look out for?
Non-Conference Key Games
- (Team) - (Date) - (2015 Record) - (2015 final RPI ranking) *Bold denotes home game
- Fresno State - 2/19-2/21/16 - 31-26 - #61
- Stetson - 2/26-2/28/16 - 29-30 - #136
- Kansas - 3/8/16 & 3/23/16 - 27-29 - #129
- Kansas State - 3/9/16 & 3/22/16 - 27-30 - #91
- UAB - 3/11-3/13/16 - 32-24 - #69
- Nebraska - 3/29/16 & 4/12/16 - 34-23 - #46
- Stony Brook - 3/25-3/27/16 - 33-14 - #62
- Arkansas - 4/19/16 - 35-22 - #34
- Wichita State - 5/10/16 - 26-33 - #108
1B Reagan Fowler- Fowler was a first team All-BIG EAST honoree as he managed a .319/.384/.404 slash line, one of the most prolific batsmen in the entire conference. Fowler is the anchor to this offense as he walked as many times as he struck out last year, and has an innate ability to put the ball in play. Though he doesn't hit for power (zero dingers) he held a team high in RBIs (36). This is Fowler's swan song before he goes to the professional ranks, and the BIG EAST has been on notice of the senior's talents since his sophomore year.
SP Rollie Lacy- The freshman phenom and phenomenal namesake of Rollie Lacy took the BIG EAST by surprise last year, posting an incredible 2.66 ERA over 74 innings pitched and ended the year with a 6-1 record. Lacy struck out 47 and threw a complete game in 2015, while never allowing a ball to fly past the wall in fair territory. If his freshman year is any indication of how high this kid's ceiling is, the sky is presumably the limit.
SU/RHP Ethan Decaster- DeCaster started the 2015 season as the defacto setup man to David Gerber. A college version of Wade Davis, DeCaster threw 26.1 innings and allowed only 5 XBH, all doubles, and zero homeruns while maintaining a 2.73 ERA over the course of the year. DeCaster also maintained a healthy command of his pitches, hitting only one batter and walking only six over his 25 appearances.
CF Daniel Woodrow- Arguably the fastest Jay on the team, junior center fielder Daniel Woodrow offers a great deal of defensive skill mixed with a pretty sweet bat, finishing the 2015 season with a .281/.369/.360 slash line. Woodrow has an issue with striking out, managing to accumulate 37 k's, but makes up for his free swinging attitude with 21 stolen bases on 26 attempts. If Woodrow can cut down the strikouts and work on progressing through at-bats and show more discipline to draw walks, he can burn the basepaths and put a great deal of pressure on the opposing middle defense. As Ed Servais likes to say, "Make them make mistakes," which Woodrow can do in spades.
SS Nicky Lopez- The senior shortstop is looking to make a splash in his senior season. Coming off a 2015 campaign that saw him miss a handful of games due to a slight tear in his left knee, Lopez is a catalyst for the Jays on defense, managing 150 putouts while collecting only 4 errors. The middle defense will be key to putting a stop to any opposing team's ability to score as Lopez works in tandem with second basemen Ryan Fitzgerald.
Best Case Scenario
Rollie Lacy, Matt Warren, and Keith Rogalla end up being a three headed monster on weekends, tossing k's and forcing shutouts, only to hand the ball off to an incredibly strong bullpen in Highberger, Bamesberger, DeCaster, and Gerber. The offense clicks immediately and complies with Servais's small ball style, forcing the weaker defenses into committing errors and putting pressure on opposing pitchers on the basepaths. The Jays steamroll through the non-conference slate, beat Nebraska twice, beat Arkansas, then destroy a weaker field of BIG EAST opponents.
By the final weekend, the Jays have locked up a slot in the top-40 in RPI, meaning they're in the tourny regardless of what happens come tournament time - but go undefeated in BIG EAST tournament play and finally get that elusive trophy, causing a giant headache in the NCAA office of where to put them to host a regional. Eventually, the NCAA's head explodes and Creighton (somehow, someway) gets home field advantage throughout the regionals and super regionals (not possible, I think) playing all their home games at TD Ameritrade Park, make it to the College World Series where the capacity crowd is a sea of blue, drunk and on a euphoric trip of elated bliss, and Creighton wins the CWS to become legends in the city of Omaha for eternity. Fowler wins the Golden Spikes, Dick Howser, Baseball America, Big East Coast Bias, and Lowe's Senior CLASS awards. Matt Warren wins National Pitcher of the Year. Nicky Lopez wins the Brooks Wallace award.
Worst Case Scenario
Creighton stumbles and gets blown out by all the teams mentioned in the 'Key Non-Conference Games' section above, Lacy goes through a sophomore slump and can't get a batter out, the back end of the bullpen falls apart, Fowler has a terrible year at the plate, Lopez's trick knee starts acting up again, and Servais's small ball becomes completely ineffective with the second year of flat-seam baseballs giving more credence to power-hitting ballclubs. Creighton can't get to .500 by conference play and ends up squeaking into the BIG EAST tournament only to lose to Seton Hall in the championship.
What will probably happen
Creighton will do well in the non-conference games, everything will be stable and intact, and they'll probably split with Nebraska. They might give Dave Van Horn a run for his money in Fayetteville (why not? it'll be on the SEC network!) and get some key wins against BYU in Provo. The Jays will most likely wallop the bottom-4 teams in the BIG EAST, struggle with Seton Hall's power and St. John's persistence, but end up at the top of the conference and end up as the defacto 1-seed in the BIG EAST tournament where they'll finally get their championship. They'll probably end up on the West Coast in a regional with Oregon, Arizona State or UCLA where they'll steal a game but ultimately be forced out.
2016 Record - 43-10, 15-3
I personally like the Best Case Scenario the most, don't you?