• Game 1: Creighton 6, Illinois State 5, 15 inn.
• Game 2: Illinois State 7, Creighton 2
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Saturday's doubleheader split with Illinois State underscored the extremes that have turned Creighton's season into a head-scratcher.
The Bluejays showed plenty of heart in pulling out a 6-5 victory in a first game that lasted 15 innings. Chance Ross singled home the winning run, but it was Michael Blatchford, still hobbled by a knee injury suffered in early March, who got the inning started with a pinch-hit single.
“We thought that one would give us a lot of momentum coming into the second game,” Ross said.
It wasn't to be. The Bluejays fell behind early, battled back to tie and then saw the Redbirds come up with a series of clutch two-out hits that produced a 7-2 victory at TD Ameritrade Park.
“It kind of tells you a lot about this club,” Creighton coach Ed Servais said. “It's been a little bit of a roller-coaster ride. I was proud of what they did in the first game, but we just didn't use what we did in the first game very well in that second game.”
The split in front of 3,389 left Creighton 16-22 and 3-11 in the Missouri Valley Conference while Illinois State is 23-16 and 5-8. The Bluejays will go for their first league series win Sunday at 1 p.m.
Their chances would be enhanced if they could play as they did in Saturday's opener. Creighton jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, then battled back after Illinois State took a 5-4 lead in the eighth. Down to its last out in the ninth, Creighton tied it 5-5 on Brad McKewon's RBI single.
The Bluejays then got some gutty relief pitching from Reese McGraw, Chase Webb and Kurt Spomer in extra innings. The Redbirds got their leadoff man on in the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th innings but couldn't get a run.
Webb worked out of a major jam in the 12th as the Redbirds loaded the bases with one out before he used an infield popup and a fly ball to end the threat.
Creighton also had scoring opportunities in extra innings but started to run out of options because it had lost its designated hitter in the ninth when Scott Thornburg pinch hit, then stayed in the game at catcher.
In order to keep from having pitchers hit, Servais pinch hit Petr Zyma in the 10th and Jerry Mitchell in the 12th. It was Zyma's fifth at-bat of the season, Mitchell's first.
With one out in the 15th, Servais turned to Blatchford, who hadn't played since tearing cartilage in his knee on Creighton's spring trip to California.
“I knew there weren't many guys left on the active roster,” Blatchford said. “He mentioned that he was going to have me hit if they needed me. That was fine with me. I just wanted to help the team.”
Blatchford, in his sixth at-bat of the season, laced a pitch from losing pitcher Jeremy Rhoades to left field and limped to first base. He smiled when asked if he considered trying to stretch the hit into a double.
“I've been able to do a little jogging lately,” Blatchford said, “but my left is still probably only about 50 percent.”
Pitcher Shane Liska pinch ran for Blatchford. After Jake Peter walked and Thornburg flied out, Liska scored the winning run when Ross blooped a single that dropped just in front of center fielder Chad Hinshaw to end the longest game at TD Ameritrade and Creighton's longest since 1989.
“Watching what Michael did was really special,” Ross said. “Everybody was pulling for him during that at-bat.”
Blatchford downplayed his contribution, saying it doesn't help take the sting out of his season.
“The most disappointing thing is not my leg but how our season is going right now,” he said. “We know we have the guys to have a good season, but it's just not coming together. I was hoping winning the game and battling hard and fighting would give us a spark and get something going.”
Creighton failed to capitalize, letting the second game slip away when the Redbirds came up with two-out hits that produced five runs in the final five innings. Meanwhile, Illinois State starter Dylan Craig retired 13 of his last 14 hitters to finish off the complete-game win.
“Our guys showed what they're capable of in that first game,” Servais said. “They showed a lot of heart, a lot of character and a lot of toughness. It's there. It's just something they have to decide to do more often.”
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