This is the final game of Creighton's monumental homestand that started in winter and is ending in what feels like mid-spring. On March 11th Creighton opened an incredible run of 22 games played in the state of Nebraska (21 at home, one game played in Lincoln) and that run dwindles to a close against, of all teams, the Butler Bulldogs.
Just when you think the Bluejays are dead in the god damn water they grab your brain with an iron fist, rip it out of your noggin, and whisper quietly into the dripping mass of tissue and nerves, "wrong again bucko."
This game started out poorly for Creighton's third baseman Harrison Crawford. In the top of the first inning it appeared as if Keith 'Slops' Rogalla was going to cruise through the inning until Crawford sailed a throw by first baseman Reagan Fowler. With Tyler Houston reaching second on the error, Chris Marras then returned a hot shot right at Crawford, which Crawford bungled and let it slip through his legs. The ball rolled all the way to the corner and Houston scored easily with Marras arriving on second. That was all Butler could muster, but it appeared that the tables had turned on Creighton's highly vaunted defense.
The bottom of the fourth featured an offensive explosion for the Bluejays - sort of. With two outs, Creighton mashed back to back doubles, the first one coming off the bat of Riley Lunduyt into deep left field and the second - a ground rule double into right field - coming off the bat of Matt Gandy. That scored Creighton's one lonely run in the first eight innings.
Butler answered back immediately in the top of the fifth inning, capitalizing on a couple of errors by the Creighton defense. The first one allowed the go-ahead run to score, with Christman opening the inning with a single and working his way to third on a sac bunt and a hit to the right side. Christman scored on a chopper to *new* Bluejay third baseman Bryce Only whose throw didn't have enough heat on it as it skittered away from Reagan Fowler allowing Tyler Houston safe passage to second base. Houston was then awarded third base after Keith Rogalla balked, and later scored on a Chris Marras single up the middle. 3-1 Bulldogs.
Last night I decided to indulge in a few adult beverages to celebrate accomplishing nothing and decided to hate-watch 'The Babe' with John Goodman as Babe Ruth. It's an awful movie, just terrible, but I endured for about 25 minutes before falling asleep. I recall a young Babe Ruth being portrayed as some sort of baseball savant; being dropped off at an orphanage at 7 years old and plowing dongs over the school yard walls like he's some big shot. It was awful and I hated it but I still laughed occasionally. I tell you this terrible story only because the next four innings of baseball were pretty uneventful.
As the bottom of the ninth approached I already had 90% of this recap written, waiting in sweaty anticipation for this game to end so I could continue my miserable life meandering through the streets of Omaha looking for partially empty cans of beer to polish off but instead I was treated to a moment of euphoria for the third time in five games; a Creighton comeback.
Jeff Schank is one of the better pitchers in the BIG EAST. He's managed to throw a whole lot of innings and keep his ERA relatively low - but it's the former part of that sentence that makes him so good. As an innings eater he's able to go deep into games and keep a wealth of control. He's been the glowing bright spot on this Bulldog team and as he finished off the eighth inning it appeared as if he was going for a complete game. He pitched impeccably, allowing just 6 hits, walking one, striking out 6, and throwing a whopping 117 pitches. When a workhorse like that gets you to the eighth inning with a lead, you've gotta continue on with him regardless of pitch count. This game mattered. Instead, Butler's head coach Steve Farley pulled Schank and put in Danny Pobereyko to finish off the Jays.
Instead, Pobereyko managed to get Matt Gandy to ground out to second base. Bryce Only, noting that Butler's second baseman Connor Dall had a 50% failure rate, mashed a grounder straight to him, a ball that ate Dall up and trickled into the outfield. With Only safe at first Kevin 'Buntatron 2000' Connolly dug in only to fly out to left field.
Ed Servais decided to go with Brennan Hammer as a pinch hitter for Keith Oren. Pobereyko seemed afraid of Hammer so he threw it into the dirt to cause a distraction, but it backfired immediately as the ball passed by Marras and Only was able to conquer second base. Hammer stepped back into the batter's box and rifled a ball into center field to score Only from first.
Hammer was then replaced on the basepaths by Will Bamesberger, who proceeded to take second base on a high risk steal. The throw was there, seriously, but the ball got away from shortstop Michael Hartnagel. With the tying run in scoring position, Danny Woodrow worked a walk out of Pobereyko and landed on first base.
Nicky Lopez then stood at the dish, locked in and eagerly awaiting whatever Pobereyko had to offer. The opportunity presented itself relatively soon as Lopez bashed a ball into center field, scoring Bamesberger from second and allowing Woodrow to arrive at third base safely. Lopez took second on the throw home.
Steve Farley then barked at Pobereyko to intentionally walk Ryan Fitzgerald only to face the hot hitting Reagan Fowler. The gamble paid off as Fowler ground out to Hartnagel at short, who proceeded to touch second base before Fitzgerald could arrive. Extra innings loomed, and I'd be damned if anyone in the stadium actually thought that Butler would be able to do anything offensively. Their one opportunity at winning the game vanished faster than my prom date after the dance was over.
To the tenth, where David Gerber set down the Bulldogs in order - a task that almost anyone in the stadium could've accomplished considering the morale of the team was lower than my prom date's standards.
The bottom of the tenth looked a bit differently than the ninth, considering Pobereyko had returned to his dog carrier as Steve Farley, who had probably completely given up and started to do crossword puzzles, sent out Zach Barnes - a pitcher who amassed a 4.03 ERA over 22.1 innings pitched, allowed 23 hits (that's more than a hit per inning!) and had struck out 12 while walking 11. This, my friends, is what's called a sacrifical lamb.
Barnes started things off by plunking Landuyt, which is the perfect way you want to start a do-or-die inning. Matt 'Buntaholic' Gandy then sac bunted Landuyt to second, putting the winning run in scoring position with just one out. Bryce Only then singled to right field, sending Landuyt to third.
This set the stage for Kevin 'Buntatron 2000' Connolly to play hero. Which he did on the very first pitch, depositing it into left field. Landuyt scores.
REPLAY: Kevin Connolly gives Creighton its third walkoff win this week with an RBI single in the bottom of the 10th! https://t.co/amg1perIb8— Creighton Baseball (@CU_Baseball) April 17, 2016
Ballgame. 4-3 Jays.
How sweep it is.
Creighton, with the sweep, avoids a huge knock to their RPI (good!) but also played Butler, so their RPI will still take a hit (bad). Their record now stands at 25-7.
Butler's defense, when pressured, was awful all weekend. If they worked on that they might be a decent team, but instead they looked terrible. They dropped to 9-26.