SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - The Creighton baseball team is clicking on all cylinders in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, powering past Illinois State 11-5 on Wednesday. The Bluejay offense was led by Mike Gerber, who finished 4-5 from the plate with three runs driven in and two runs scored. It marks his first four-hit game of his Bluejay career, highlighted by his team-leading fourth home run in the third inning.
Shane Liska did his part in the game as well, tying his career-best with 6.0 innings of work, surrendering just two runs and striking out six batters.
Creighton advances to play in the semifinal of the A Bracket in this years tournament. The Bluejays will play the winner of Evansville and Illinois State (Thursday at 9 am) tomorrow afternoon, with first pitch set for 4:00 pm.
The Bluejays got on the board first, thanks in part to mother nature. With one out in the second inning, Alex Staehely singled to left field. A pop out to left field gave the Bluejays a pair of outs in the frame. Brennan Murphy beat out an infield single to put a pair of runners on base, followed by a pop-up on the infield that should have been the final out of the inning.
But the near 20 mph wind blew the ball away from Illinois State first baseman Kyle Stanton, falling just out of his reach as Staehely came around the base paths to score the first run of the game.
Illinois State got to Bluejay starting pitcher Liska in the top of the third inning, pushing across two runs on three hits. Liska struck out Stanton to lead off the frame before the Redbirds picked up three-straight hits, singles from Brett Kay and Chad Hinshaw and a double from Ty Wiesemeyer pushed across the first run.
A walk with a wild pitch to Zac Johnson allowed Kay to score from third and put runners on the corners with just one out for the Redbirds. A long run from Brad McKewon to track down a fly out in foul ground picked up the second out of the inning before Liska got a deep fly out to Gerber to end the inning. Illinois State led 2-1 after two and a half.
But the Bluejays battled right back to reclaim the lead in the home half of the third. With one out, Scott Thornburg walked before Gerber pulled his team-leading fourth home run of the year to the right center field power alley, pushing Creighton back ahead 3-2.
Liska settled down after the two-run third inning, retiring nine of the next 10 batters. He put the Redbirds down in order in the fourth and sixth innings, with a single strikeout in each of those frames. Liska surrendered a two out double in the fifth inning, but picked up all three outs with strikeouts in the frame.
Creighton extended its lead in the bottom of the fourth inning, adding a pair of runs, one unearned, to take a 5-2 lead after four complete innings. Murphy led off the inning with a bunt single, advancing to second on a sacrifice bunt from McKewon. Nick Judkins drove a single back up the middle to score Murphy for the first run of the frame.
A Ross pop-up led to a Bemboom single to right field, putting runners on the corners for the Jays. Thornburg then reached safely on a fielder's choice, hitting a dround ball to the Redbirds third baseman who threw wide of second base trying to make the easy play. Judkins scored before Bemboom overslid the base at second, the final out of the frame.
Creighton added another run in the bottom of the sixth inning. Gerber led off the inning with a single up the middle, advancing to second with a Staehely sacrifice bunt. Jake Peter then singled up the middle, driving in his first RBI of the tournament to put Creighton up 6-2.
A two-out rally in the seventh inning gave Creighton its final three runs of the game. McKewon singled to left center to lead off the inning, advancing to third on a Judkins single through the right side. Four pitches later, Ross blasted a ball over the left field fence the game to 11-2 after seven complete.
Liska earned his second win of the season, tying his career high with 6.0 innings on the mound. He struck out six batters, surrendering just one walk and five hits. He retired 11 of the final 12 men he faced to reach base safely.
Creighton out hit the Redbirds 16-10 on the night, led by Gerber's 4-5 day, driving in three runs and scoring two of his own. Judkins went 3-3 with three runs scored and a run driven in, and McKewon, Bemboom and Murphy had two hits a piece.
NOTES: Mike Gerber's team-leading fourth home run of the year put Creighton up 3-2 in the third inning. It marks Gerber's first home run in over a month, as his last was at Southern Illinois on April 22 ... Three of Gerber's four home runs have come away from Omaha, with the fourth at the CU Sports Complex ... Gerber's home run also marked the first for the Bluejays as a team since May 5, when Chance Ross led off the game at Bradley with a home run ... Creighton outhit the Redbirds 16-10 in the game, marking the fourth time in the last five games the Bluejays have picked up double-digit hits in a game, including the first two games in the MVC Tournament ... The 16 hits tie a season high for the Jays, set in the wins against North Dakota and Nebraska ... Creighton successfully dropped three sacrifice bunts in the game, all three which led to runs in the win ... The left handed batters in the Bluejay lineup (Judkins, Bemboom, Gerber, Peter and Murphy) combined for 12 of the 16 hits on the day for the Bluejays ...Creighton had at least two runners on base in every inning, scoring in six of the eight innings they hit in ... Creighton played its third consecutive errorless game, the first time this season they have done so ... Alex Staehely had another sacrifice bunt in the game, moving his second-place career total to 35 ... Creighton has opened the MVC Tournament 2-0 for the first time since 2009. Under Ed Servais, Creighton has started the tournament 2-0 four times, in 2005, 2007, 2009 and now in 2012. The Jays started last year 1-1 and had to battle back through the losers bracket to win the schools second MVC Tournament title ... The Bluejays will face the winner of Evansville and Illinois State in the winners bracket game tomorrow. Creighton holds a 7-1 MVC Tournament record over the Redbirds and a 2-3 mark against Evansville.