The Creighton bullpen allowed only two runs in 13 2/3 innings of work but did not preserve or earn a victory as Fresno State swept the Bluejays to open the 2016 season.
Creighton dropped a pair of one-run games by a score of 2-1 on Friday and Saturday before falling 7-3 on Sunday afternoon in Fresno, California.
The bullpen did not allow a run in either of the first two contests over eight innings of work.
“We had some really good performances on the mound, and we left one or two pitchers at home that I think can get guys out as well,” coach Ed Servais said. “We were very careful with them and the amount of pitches that they threw so I think we came through the first weekend in pretty good shape and now we’ll just build off of that.”
Senior Matt Warren received the opening-day nod on the mound and held Fresno State off the scoreboard over the first three innings.
He surrendered back-to-back singles in the bottom of the fourth to spell his start.
Both runners scored in the inning to give the Bulldogs an early 2-0 lead.
Senior Brett Murray closed the gap to one as he led off the top of the fifth with a solo home run to left field.
Murray’s homer was one of only four Creighton hits on Friday.
The Bulldogs threatened to expand their lead with two runners in scoring position in the bottom of the fifth frame, but senior Connor Miller forced a fly out to center field to spoil the opportunity.
Miller struck out five, walked two and gave up three hits in 2 2/3 scoreless innings of work.
After zeros by both teams in the sixth and seventh frames, Creighton had a chance to tie the game in the eighth with a runner at third base, two outs and its No. 3 hitter in the batter’s box. The Bluejays came up empty as senior second baseman Ryan Fitzgerald stranded junior centerfielder Daniel Woodrow at third after a fly out to center.
Fresno State (3-0) went quietly in its half of the eight before shutting down Creighton (0-3) in the top of the ninth to earn the season-opening win.
Senior Nick Highberger allowed only one hit and struck out two in two innings of relief, but Fresno State’s bullpen was as impressive, surrendering only one hit over the final three innings.
Similar to Friday, the Bulldogs scored a pair of early runs with one each in the second and fourth innings and forced the Bluejays to play from behind.
Creighton’s lone run came in the top of the seventh on a fielder’s choice ground out off the bat of Woodrow to score Murray.
Junior Austin Groth, senior John Oltman and sophomore Ethan DeCaster did not allow a run in three innings of relief work giving the Jays a chance to come from behind.
“Whoever is going in we know they’re going to get the job done,” Highberger said at Creighton’s media day. “It just adds to our confidence this year.”
The Bluejays opened the top of the ninth with two quick outs before two singles and a walk loaded the bases with Fitzgerald due up and an opportunity to tie the game or give Creighton the lead.
Fresno State’s closer Tim Borst needed only three pitches to retire Fitzgerald and pick up his second consecutive save to open the season.
Freshman catcher Michael Emodi reached base safely in four plate appearance and had three singles, but did not advance past second base.
The Bluejays opened Sunday with a lead-off single and loaded the bases with only one out, giving senior third baseman Harrison Crawford a chance to give the Jays a quick lead.
Fresno State starter Anthony Arias danced out of danger by inducing a 6-4-3 double play and kept the game scoreless.
“There’s hitting, and then there’s hitting with runners in scoring position,” Servais said. “Our players found out the difference between those two this weekend. With baserunners comes a different kind of a mindset from the pitcher. He’s going to make his best pitches early in the count and we didn’t respond as well to that situation.”
Creighton’s early missed opportunity proved costly as the Bulldogs scored one in each of the first two innings and hit a three-run home run in the third inning to take a 5-0 lead.
Fresno State added one more run in the fifth on a wild pitch for the first run allowed by the Creighton bullpen.
The Bluejays had only two runners reach base between the second and sixth innings before making some noise in the seventh.
Creighton trimmed the lead to four runs in the seventh with an RBI-triple by Murray and an RBI-single from sophomore catcher Keith Oren.
The Bulldogs answered and pushed one across in the bottom of inning to make it 7-2.
The Bluejays did not score in the eighth but had some life in the final frame.
Crawford laced a one-out double and Oren produced his second RBI of the afternoon with a single through the right side of the infield before Fresno State escaped further damage with a ground out to third base.
Crawford finished the weekend 3 for 8 with and four walks, two runs scored and one RBI and Oren went 2 for 5 with two RBIs.
Servais admitted that Fresno State proved to be a challenge during the opening weekend, but he believed they missed some chances to pick up a victory.
“We still have to find a way to play on the road in environments like that and come out on top,” Servais said. “We’ll use it as a learning opportunity and we’ll move forward to this weekend.”
Creighton heads to Florida for its next series to face the Stetson Hatters. Friday’s series-opener will start at 5:30 p.m.