A full-count walk by sophomore outfielder Kevin Connolly loaded the bases for the Bluejays in the bottom of the seventh inning and spelled the end of Trent Astle’s start.
With the bases full of Jays, senior designated hitter Landon Lucansky watched the first pitch from reliever Zac Lowther for ball one, swung and missed on the second delivery, but connected with the third offering.
The right-handed hitting Lucansky laced the ball towards the Xavier shortstop, but it drifted out of the reach of Andre Jernigan and fell harmlessly into left-center field.
“I was just looking for a fastball,” Lucansky said. “I know he wanted to come in to try to work through me in the nine hole [in the batting order].
“Luckily it found a hole.”
Junior Brett Murray and senior David Wiedeman scored easily from third and second base and Connolly came in to score from second after an errant throw made it all the way to the backstop.
Lucansky’s one-out single was the difference in Creighton’s 3-1 win Sunday afternoon at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.
“It’s just a burst of energy,” sophomore pitcher David Gerber said. “And it gets the crowd into it and the team radiates from that and it really got us going in the right direction.”
Lucansky also had a clutch performance in extra-innings against Air Force on March 25. His hit did not count in the scorebook because junior Ryan Fitzgerald was forced out at second base to nullify the game-winner, but the Bluejays continue to recognize it as a hit.
“I think the base hit he had against Air Force gave him confidence, even though it never counted as a winning hit,” coach Ed Servais said. “He looked very confident in what he was going to try to do up there [today] and I think that experience he had with that base hit against Air Force certainly helped.”
One day after the Jays played their 100th game in the four-year-old ballpark, the Creighton baseball team (20-9, 5-1 Big East) won its fifth straight Big East game and completed a three-game sweep of the Xavier Musketeers (8-26, 0-6).
Astle allowed only one Bluejay runner to reach second base through the first six innings, but the sophomore left-hander ran into trouble in the seventh, allowing a one-out double to Murray before hitting senior catcher Kevin Lamb and walking Connolly to load the bases.
Astle shutout Creighton in Xavier’s 5-0 victory in the Big East Tournament championship game last season, and extended his scoreless innings streak against the Jays with six on Sunday.
“He does a really good job of commanding both sides of the plate,” Lucansky said. “As a righty you don’t expect lefties to come in on you, and he was doing a good job of doing that to me and I think he was also coming inside to the lefties, which is a tough thing to do (left on left), and [he] kept us off balance all day.”
Xavier had two consecutive singles to open the top of the eighth as the visiting team attempted to mount a comeback, but first baseman Joe Forney was picked off attempting to steal third base before Gerber threw his first pitch to home.
“It caught me a little off-guard,” Gerber said, “but we work on that in practice, so we executed.”
Xavier’s hope of a rally of its own was nearly taken away with the single play.
“After he got that guy out the inning was virtually over,” Servais said. “And they had no momentum left.”
Gerber struck out the final two hitters of the inning and struck out three of four batters in the ninth to end the game.
Gerber’s five-strikeout performance led to his sixth save of the season.
Junior Nick Highberger (4-1) picked up the victory after throwing a scoreless seventh inning before the Bluejays’ rally.
Junior Matt Warren started the game for Creighton and allowed one run in 3 1/3 innings. Warren missed his start last weekend because of an elbow injury.
The bullpen combined for 5 2/3 innings of scoreless work.
Sophomore Nicky Lopez started each game of the series at shortstop for the Bluejays. Friday’s game (the first game in the series) was Lopez’ first game since March 22. The shortstop had surgery on April 1 to repair cartilage in his left knee.
Creighton looks to continue its winning ways against in-state rival Nebraska on Tuesday night. Nebraska (26-11) defeated the Bluejays 5-1 on March 31 in Lincoln, but Tuesday’s game is at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.
“I don’t think we responded to the environment down there very well the first three innings the last time we played,” Servais said. “I think the environment will be festive again on Tuesday; the weather is going to be good and there will be a lot of folks out. I hope we learn from what we did last time.”