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Xavier baseball refuses to die; wins series vs Creighton

From worst to first and the art of a collapse.

Here are your BIG EAST standings as of 05/16/16.

  1. Xavier - 11-4 - 24-27 - Owns tiebreaker over Creighton
  2. Creighton - 11-4 - 33-13
  3. St. John's - 8-7 - 25-22-1 - 3 GB
  4. Seton Hall - 7-8 - 34-18 - 4 GB
  5. Georgetown - 8-10 - 25-29 - 4.5 GB
  6. Villanova - 5-10 - 20-29 - 6 GB
  7. Butler - 4-11 - 14-35 - 7 GB

Here's a recap of the Creighton/Xavier series:

This was a telling weekend for BIG EAST baseball. We were treated to the top two teams in conference facing off against one another in a 3-game set in Cincinnati, with Creighton coming in as the preseason favorite to win the title and Xavier coming in as a former cellar dweller that resembled more of an amorphous blob of cheesecake than an actual baseball team throughout the 2015 season.

In 2014 Creighton was the favorite to win the BIG EAST and rolled into the BIG EAST tournament in Coney Island with the number one seed. They rolled through to the championship game where they faced the Xavier Musketeers - a Xavier team that battled their way through the loser's bracket after being dismantled by the Jays in the first round. Xavier was the 4-seed - the BIG EAST tournament only sends four teams to compete - and they managed to make things interesting as they beat Creighton in the only game of the championship series, becoming the sole representative in the NCAA tournament.

This series felt a lot like that.

Xavier was bad last year. I mean, this team's defense was so atrocious that it left one wondering what exactly they did during their practices. Their offense boasted bloated numbers due to the bandbox of a field they call home and their pitching was just awful. Closing out games to the Musketeers was a lot like playing with a box of matches in a wooded forest during a 30-year long drought.

Now, they're tied for first in the BIG EAST and I have no idea how. Their overall record is 24-27 but their schedule, as far as BIG EAST standards are concerned, is tops. They've played Arizona State, Vanderbilt, and a *good* Mercer team - all of which the Musketeers lost. Head coach Scott Googins decided to throw his team in a pit of hellfire and see if they could survive. They did, and now they sit atop the BIG EAST standings.

* * *

The first game of the series featured Bluejay ace Rollie Lacy and Xavier's Zac Lowther. What we witnessed in the first game sort of gave us an idea of how the rest of the series was going to play out. In the third inning Bluejay centerfielder Danny Woodrow hung massive dong into right field to give the Jays an early 2-0 advantage. Xavier would answer in the bottom of the fourth by working around Gellenbeck to third and scoring him on a sac fly. They would then tie the game in the bottom of the fifth on a Gellenbeck single, scoring Bannon.

The Jays answered right back in the top of the sixth with a Fitzgerald single to score Woodrow. They'd cruise from there, shutting down the Xavier offense and coasting to a 4-2 win.

I watched this entire game from Xavier's 'broadcast' which was a stationary camera off-center of homeplate. I'm not complaining, but it felt like I was completely paralyzed, propped up on a gurney, and forced to watch the remainder of the weekend of madness from this very spot. What's worse is the Xavier play-by-play and color guys, both of them breathing into their microphones as if they'd just got done running a marathon. It was treacherous, but understandable considering their budget probably wasn't too astronomically high.

* * *

Game two featured a wealth of offense early for the Bluejays as they jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the third inning with a massive dong by Buntatron 2000 and a Ryan Fitzgerald tripled that was aided by poor outfield play by Xavier. The play by play guy yawned, he assumed that this one was over.

So did I.

We were both wrong.

Xavier, who was being no hit by the King of Anthills for 3 innings, exploded for four runs in the bottom of the fourth. The hook to remove the King was quick and Connor Miller came in to replace him. The four runs were scored with a quick succession of base hits from Gellenbeck, Jernigan, and Larue.

The Bluejay's 5-4 lead would hang there for two more frames. The momentum had completely shifted in such a dramatic way that it felt as though the Bluejay offense was crumbling betwixt the fingers of the baseball Gods. What was once a on-the-bubble regional host just a week ago was now beginning to stumble down the proverbial hill that is the college baseball season. Their inability to close against Georgetown and the whooping they took from a poor Wichita State team began to poke porous holes into the confidence the Jays had built all season long.

In a bizarre turn of events, the Musketeers managed to tie the ballgame at 5-all in the bottom of the seventh. Roger Danison managed to get around to third base and score on a John Oltman wild pitch, much to the excitement of the play by play guy, who had pretty much lost his mind as Danison scored.

With the drama heightened to an insane degree, the Jays left runners on second and third in the top of the ninth to hand the game off to Xavier, who proceeded to draw a walk, get a hit, and pop one into the gap to walk off. The walk off hit was scorched by Joe Gellenbeck. Xavier won, 6-5.

* * *

I blame only myself for what occurred this weekend. For the entire 2015 season, when I was poking around and finding my footing attempting to cover BIG EAST baseball, I found a dead horse I could sufficiently beat. That horse's name was Xavier baseball. I sincerely doubt anyone involved with Xavier read the things I wrote, but if they did it would've been some really bizarre 'bulletin board material.'

For the second consecutive game the Bluejays managed to get out to a seemingly insurmountable lead. In the top of the second Harrison Crawford hung massive dong over the left field fence and scored Brett Murray. Later, Keith Oren worked his way to third after a Danny Woodrow double and later scored on a sac fly. The score was 3-0 with Keith Rogalla seemingly shutting down the Xavier offense entirely.

In the bottom of the third the Bluejays managed to chase Musketeer staring pitcher Trent Astle after he allowed Bluejay first baseman Reagan Fowler to reach on a single. Buntatron 2000 managed to single Fowler home and the lead swelled to 4-0, all Bluejays.

The problem with Keith Rogalla is that, as his pitch count grows, his control regresses. This hasn't been much of a problem this season since Creighton's bullpen has been absolute nails, but for some reason in this series against Xavier the tables turned in a violent rage. As the seventh inning came, Rogalla's control went, and left the game after giving up a walk and two straight singles to give Xavier their first run of the game. John Oltman entered and extinguished the fire, but the momentum began to sway.

The Bluejay offense cooked for a bit in the 8th but were unable to capitalize with runners in scoring position. It's a tale that has been told all season long, as the Bluejays began the year having a great deal of trouble driving in runs, the problem seemed to dissipate, but recently it has returned with a vengeance in their last four games.

Xavier approached the dish in the bottom of the eighth and immediately cut their deficit in half as Bannon hung dong to start the inning off. Oltman then proceeded to give up a string of singles and was pulled after being unable to record an out. David Gerber approached the hill and managed to wiggle out of the inning after Xavier proceeded to goof up on the bases but managed to tie the game.

4-4, top of the ninth, and Bluejay DH Matt Gandy starts things off with a single. In an attempt to move him to second, Will Bamesberger laid down a bunt, but put too much on it and Xavier was able to throw out Gandy. What appeared as a rally ended with a whimper as Crawford and Buntatron 2000 were unable to reach base.

David Gerber managed to get two quick outs in the bottom of the ninth, but after a Rizzie single, he was forced to pitch to Bluejay killer Gellenbeck. It didn't take long for Gellenbeck to find the sweet spot in his bat, as he hung a majestic dong over the right field fence to walk off and win the game.

Xavier wins the game 6-4 and wins the series, propelling them to a tie in first place.

* * *

Collapsing late in games is something a team can grow out of. It's a trait that is normally experienced by highly talented teams that are still immature. The problem for Creighton is that they feature a roster laden with seniors and experienced ballplayers. They've failed to win the BIG EAST tournament since joining the conference, and if they happen to stumble into the tournament with broken confidence it could be the same ol' story.

Will it happen again? Only time will tell.