Following a shaky start to open the 2015 season, the Creighton baseball team is hitting its stride at the right time and looks poised to defend its Big East regular-season championship.
The Bluejays have won 10 of their last 12 games, including seven consecutive before Tuesday night’s 5-1 loss against Nebraska.
Creighton (15-8) opens its Big East Conference portion of the season Thursday afternoon in Washington, D.C., against the Georgetown Hoyas (12-12).
“We have a lot of guys playing well right now,” junior first baseman Reagan Fowler said, “A couple of weeks ago we were struggling, not finding ourselves out as a team, and now we’ve all bought into the system.”
Coach Ed Servais said inconsistent play through the first month of the season led to a 5-6 start.
“We needed to start playing more consistent,” Servais said. “[We] had a lot of good games and bad games and a lot of two good games and one bad game [situations].”
The Bluejays had to replace four position starters after a first place finish in the Big East last year. Fowler and Servais both noted that many of the younger players and new starters did not understand the team’s philosophy through the first few weeks of the season.
“Some guys were uncomfortable and didn’t really trust the system that we had in place,” Fowler said.
“We had a nice talk about it a couple of weeks ago,” Servais said, “and I talked individually with a couple of players and I think they bought into it.”
With 23 games played, Creighton now shifts its focus to the Big East portion of the season.
Servais stressed the importance of pitching at the start of the conference schedule.
“It’s conference time now,” Servais said. “All of the preliminary stuff is over. We have to take this to a new level with the level of intensity, and it starts on the mound.”
Creighton owns a Big East-best 3.40 ERA as a team. Freshman Ethan DeCaster leads six different pitchers with at least 10 appearances. The freshman right-hander has allowed only one earned run in 12 innings pitched (0.75 ERA).
Junior Matt Warren leads the Jays’ staff with 7 starts, but six different Bluejays have started at least two games.
One of those pitchers, freshman Keith Rogalla, allowed two runs during five innings of work for his first victory in a Creighton uniform on Sunday against Stetson.
Rogalla pitched five innings in each of his two starts and appeared in four other games in a relief role.
“He has a plus-fastball, but he’s going to need one more pitch to go along with that to get five, six [or] seven innings out of him every time,” Servais said.
The freshman allowed six runs over three innings of work in two relief appearances against Tulane and Minnesota before making his first start against Utah Valley on March 14.
“I started the year with a good outing and then I had two rough ones, and now the last three outings I’ve thrown really well,” Rogalla said. “I’ve been a lot more confident and just throwing strikes, hitting my spots and mixing in some secondary stuff.”
Servais plans to use Rogalla in the weekend-series rotation.
The bullpen, guided by sophomore David Gerber and DeCaster, leads the conference with six saves. Gerber and DeCaster have combined to allow only three earned runs in 29 1/3 innings.
Offensively, Fowler, the preseason Big East player of the year, leads the Jays with a .369 average, including a .450 mark in the past 12 games.
As a team, the Jays are hitting .262 through 23 games, but .303 in their 15 wins.
Creighton is tied for the Big East lead with 21 sacrifice bunts and leads the league with 14 sacrifice flies. The Bluejays also have 21 stolen bases in 35 attempts.
The team has only three home runs, but normally bunts, steals and utilizes the hit-and-run to manufacture runs.
“We have a unique style of offense that we like to play and sometimes it’s not for a selfish person,” Servais said.
Creighton traveled to California, Louisiana, Kansas and New York for a total of 12 games during the opening two months of the season.
In addition to the travel, the Jays also had four games canceled because of unplayable weather conditions.
Creighton’s Big East-opener is welcomed by many members of the team.
“I know the players are anxious to get to that part of the schedule because it seems like we’ve been traveling all over the place in non-conference games,” Servais said, “and it’s time for us now to get into the league and wrench it up another notch.”
The Bluejays first Big East series at home is scheduled for April 10-12 against Xavier. Creighton lost to Xavier in the Big East Tournament championship game last season.
Following a 14-4 first-place performance last season, Creighton was picked second in the Big East Preseason Coaches’ Poll behind the St. John’s Red Storm.