Mason, Ohio — Trailing 3-0 in the top of the first inning, senior Jack Strunc put the Creighton Baseball team in front for good with a grand slam in the bottom of the first as the Bluejays claimed the BIG EAST Championship title with a 9-8 win over Xavier on Saturday, May 25.
The win pushed Creighton to 38-11 on the season as the Bluejays advance to the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2012 as the automatic qualifier for the BIG EAST Tournament.
Creighton will await word on if the Bluejays are hosting an NCAA Tournament Regional on Sunday. Should the Bluejays not host a regional, Creighton will find out where the team is going during the NCAA Selection show on Monday, May 29 at 11:00 am (CT).
Xavier got on the board with two down in the first as Allbry Major blasted a solo home run to right center. The Musketeers added two more runs in the frame, scoring on a sun aided double the split the Bluejays in short center field.
Creighton answered immediately as junior Parker Upton got things started with a one-out single to right-center. Consecutive walks to juniors Jake Holton and Will Robertson set the stage for Strunc. The Bluejay senior shortstop blasted the first pitch of his at-bat down the left field line to give the Bluejays a 4-3 advantage.
Returning to the mound with the lead, Creighton starter Evan Johnson settled into a grove as he struck out the side in the second, then set down the first two on strikes in the third. Johnson went on to notch a career-high nine strikeouts, but was lifted in the fifth inning before he qualified for the win.
Leading 4-3 in the bottom of the fourth, the Bluejays added to their advantage with three more runs on three hits. Once more Upton got things going, this time with a two-out double down the left-field line. Holton followed with an RBI single to right, then Robertson blasted a two-run home run to right-center to make it 7-3.
Xavier answered in the fifth, taking advantage of a Creighton error for three unearned runs. The big Musketeer blow came on a two-out, two-run homer off the bat of Luke Franzoni.
Holding a 7-6 edge, Creighton responded with two runs in its half of the fifth. The Bluejays final two tallies came on three consecutive singles to open the frame from senior Jordan Hovey, sophomore David Vilches and freshman Jared Wegner. Creighton’s final run of the game came on a sac fly by junior Isaac Collins.
The back and forth continued in the Xavier sixth as Connor Grammes blasted a two-run home run to left, cutting Creighton’s lead to 9-8. After a walk put the tying run on base, junior reliever Ben Dotzler struck out Major. With one-out in the frame, Creighton head coach Ed Servaisturned to junior John Sakowski, the Bluejay hurler got out of the inning unscathed to keep Creighton in front 9-8.
Sakowski worked around two Xavier base runners in the seventh and retired the Musketeers in order in the eighth. Things got dicey in the ninth as the Musketeers got a leadoff walk and a one-out single to put runners at corners. With nine-hole hitter Natalie Monastra at the plate, Xavier put on a squeeze bunt. Sakowski hopped off the mound and chased down Xavier’s Ryan Altenberger as he tried to score. The final out came moments later on a grounder to first base.
Sakowski improved to 7-0 on the season with 3.2 innings of scoreless ball, allowing just one hit and three walks. Xavier starter Nick Zwack fell to 4-3 with the loss, allowing seven runs on eight hits and two walks.
Offensively the Bluejays got four hits in the contest from Hovey, while Strunc went 2-for-5 with the big blast in the first accounting for four RBI. Other contributors at the dish were Robertson (2-for-3, two RBI) and Jake Holton (2-for-4, two runs).