Softball Hosts Illinois State in Final Regular-Season Weekend

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Senior Liz McKewon
Courtesy: Eric Francis
Creighton hosts Illinois State
Saturday, May 7 •
Creighton Sports Complex • Noon • DH
Sunday, May 8 • Creighton Sports Complex • Noon
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This Week:  Creighton concludes the regular-season with a three-game home series against league-leading Illinois State.  The Bluejays and Redbirds will play a doubleheader at noon on Saturday.  Creighton’s lone senior, Liz McKewon, will be honored between games of Saturday’s twin bill. CU and ISU will wrap up the season on Sunday at noon.

Last Week:  Creighton won its first three games of the week before losing its final contest.  The Bluejays won 2-1 at Drake last Wednesday, with Becca Changstrom striking out 10 in the win.  CU then posted two shutouts in a doubleheader sweep at Indiana State last Saturday, including a two-hitter by Changstrom in a 9-0 win in the opener and a combined shutout by Brittany Telecky and Changstrom in a 3-0 game two win.  The Sycamores won the finale 6-2, to put the Jays at 9-4 on the MVC road this season. 

Scouting Creighton (23-25, 11-10 MVC): Creighton has appeared in six of the last eight NCAA Tournaments and is the reigning Missouri Valley Conference Tournament champion ... The Bluejays return just three starters from last year’s 37-23 team, while they have 11 freshmen and nine returners on the roster ... The Jays are 5-2 in their last seven games after losing six straight ... Creighton is just 4-7 at home this year, losing its last six home games, as ace pitcher Becca Changstrom has made only four appearances at home this spring ... The Jays have hit 36 home runs this year, but only three in their last 13 games ... CU ranks second in the MVC with a .965 fielding percentage ... Catcher Amy Baker hit 14 of her league-leading 16 home runs in a 17-game span from March 11 through April 12, but has just one home run in her last 13 games ... Baker, who tops the team with 31 RBI, leads CU with a .364 average, five home runs and nine RBI in 11 home games ... Junior Christa Ruf has career-highs with nine home runs and 30 RBI this year ... Ellen Homan leads the team with 49 hits, 15 multi-hit games, 25 runs scored and a .322 average and is on pace to become the first freshman to lead Creighton in hitting since 1989  ... Changstrom leads the MVC with an opponents average of just .172, while she tops the team with a 16-9 record, 155 innings pitched and 150 strikeouts ... Fellow rookie right-hander Brittany Telecky has hurled 14.2 consecutive scoreless innings and has a team-leading 1.47 ERA in MVC play.

Scouting Illinois State (33-15, 19-4 MVC): Since starting the season 13-10, the Redbirds are 20-5 in their last 25 games and 10-2 in their last 12 ... Illinois State is the top hitting team in the MVC, with a team average of .303 and league-leading 272 runs, 380 hits, 19 triples and 65 home runs ... The Redbirds also lead the MVC with a .972 fielding percentage and MVC-low 39 errors ... ISU pitchers own a 3.09 overall ERA, and have lowered that to 2.15 during conference play ... Senior Kara Nelson, a career .401 hitter, leads the MVC with a .417 average and 70 hits ... Elizabeth Kay leads the team and ranks second in the MVC with 14 home runs, followed by Abby Olson’s 13 homers.  Olson leads the MVC in slugging percentage (.703), followed by teammates Kay (.645) and Liz Andrews (.630) as the top three sluggers in the league.  Kay leads the team with 43 RBI, Olson is second with 35 RBI ... Lauren Kellar, one of five ISU starters hitting better than .300, leads the team with five triples and nine stolen bases ... Megan Warner (14-6, 2.78 ERA, 126 IP, 91 K) and Jordan Birch (15-4, 3.15 ERA, 126.2 IP, 137) split time in the circle.

Head Coach: Head coach Brent Vigness (Central College, 1988) is in his 18th season at Creighton.  With a record of 576-400-2 at Creighton, he is the winningest coach in Bluejay athletics history.  Vigness also served as head coach at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., for five years prior to coming to Creighton.  His career record in 23 years as a head coach is 724-471-3.  The most tenured softball coach in school history has led the Jays to six MVC Tournament titles (1999, 2003-05, 2007, 2010), six regular-season MVC crowns (1998-2000, 2007-09), seven NCAA Tournament appearances (1999, 2003-05, 2007-08, 2010) and was named MVC Coach of the Year in 1998 and guided the MVC Coaching Staff of the Year in 2007 and 2008.

CU-ISU Series: The Creighton and Illinois State all-time series is even at 31-31-1 through the first 63 meetings ... The Bluejays are 9-2-1 against the Redbirds since 2007 ... The Jays are 7-1-1 against Illinois State in Omaha since 2005 ... ISU has not won in Omaha since a 2-1 victory on March 26, 2005 ... The Redbirds last won a series in Omaha in 2003 ... The Bluejays went 3-1 against ISU last year, including a 2-1 win in the MVC Tournament ... CU won three one-run games to sweep the series from ISU the last time the Redbirds came to Omaha in 2009.

Senior Weekend: The Bluejays will say goodbye to their smallest senior class since 1996 this weekend as Creighton’s lone senior, Liz McKewon, will play in her final home games.  She will be honored in between games of Saturday’s doubleheader.  The infielder has started 196 of the 199 games she has played in during her career – 126 starts at third base, 55 at shortstop and 15 at second base.  McKewon ranks fifth in school history, getting hit by a pitch 17 times in her career, while her 42 sacrifice bunts rank seventh in school history.  She is enjoying a career-year at the plate, hitting a career-high .283, with a career-best 39 hits and 13 RBI.  She has 407 assists in her career, including a team-best 103 this year.

Final Series:  In each of the past four seasons, the Bluejays have played their final regular-season series at home, winning each of those four series.  Last year the Bluejays lost the regular-season finale, but won the series against Evansville.  The Jays have not swept their final home series since taking all three from Missouri State in 2008.  CU has won its final series of the season in each of the past five seasons. 

Road Warriors: Creighton will wrap up the regular-season with three home games against Illinois State this weekend.  The Bluejays are just 4-7 at home this season, compared to 19-18 away from Omaha.  So far this season, the Bluejays have actually played more games in Iowa (12), than they have at home (11).  The Jays went 9-3 in games played in Iowa this year, while they also played 11 games in Arizona during their Spring Break trip in early March. 

Home Woes: Creighton enters the weekend with a 4-7 home record and needs a sweep of the top team in the MVC this weekend to avoid a losing record at home.  The Jays have posted only three losing home records in Brent Vigness’ first 17 seasons in Omaha, the last coming in 2003 (5-9).  The Jays also suffered losing home records in 1996 (6-8) and 1994 (3-7).  This season marks just the second time in school history the Bluejays will post a losing home record in MVC play (5-8 in 2003).

Blanks from Becca & Brittany: Freshman pitchers Becca Changstrom and Brittany Telecky combined to throw 14 scoreless innings in a pair of shutouts at Indiana State on April 30.  Changstrom hurled a complete game, two-hit shutout of the Sycamores in the opener before combining with Telecky for a shutout in game two.  Telecky threw the first 4.1 innings to pick up the win and Changstrom didn’t allow a runner in her 2.2 innings of work to pick up the save – the first of her career.  Telecky relieved Changstrom on Sunday and threw another 4.1 innings of scoreless softball, to push her scoreless streak to 14.2 innings.

Doubleheader Shutout:  As mentioned in the previous note, Becca Changstrom and Brittany Telecky combined to throw shutouts in CU’s doubleheader sweep at Indiana State (April 30).  That was just the second doubleheader shutout sweep for the Bluejays in the last four seasons.  The Bluejays blanked Drake in a doubleheader sweep on April 21, 2010.  Prior to 2010, the Jays hadn’t posted a doubleheader shutout sweep since the 2007 season, when they posted three such sweeps.

Ellen is Elite:  Freshman Ellen Homan is the only Bluejay regular hitting above .300, with a team-leading .322 average.  The rookie is attempting to become the first Bluejay freshman to lead the team in hitting since Jody Ream led the team with a .325 average in 1989.  Homan ranks second on the team with 13 stolen bases this season, the most by a Bluejay freshman since Creighton Hall of Famer Heidi Geier had 19 steals as a rookie in 1996.

Malloree’s Maladies: Freshman Malloree Grove became the first Bluejay to get hit by a pitch twice in the same game in two years, when she was beaned twice by Indiana State on April 30.  Making it worse, she was hit by a pitch twice in the same inning, as the Bluejays sent 11 batters to the plate during a six-run second inning.

Approaching Top 10: With her next strikeout, Becca Changstrom will crack the Creighton single-season top-10 list for strikeouts, tying the 151 fanned by Amanda Hess in 2007.  Amazingly it will mark the ninth straight season that a Bluejay pitcher has notched a mark in the top-10 in this category.  In fact, once Changstrom makes the move into the top 10, all 10 numbers will have been achieved within the last 11 seasons.

Creighton Single-Season Strikeout Leaders
    No.    Name    Ks    Year
    1.    Tammy Nielsen    334    2004
    2.    Tammy Nielsen    319    2005
    3.    Tara Oltman    300    2008   
    4.    Tara Oltman    291    2010
    5.    Tara Oltman    283    2009
    6.    Tammy Nielsen    261    2003   
    7.    Tara Oltman    212    2007
    8.    Stephanie Cortese    183    2006   
    9.    Shelli Mellegaard    165    2001
    10.    Amanda Hess    151    2007
    11.    Becca Changstrom    150    2011

Hitting Better, Scoring Less: The 2011 Bluejays are batting .262 as a team, compared to last year’s team average of just .243.  But last year’s team averaged 4.4 runs per game, compared to this year’s average of 3.6 per game.  Perhaps the difference can be seen in Creighton’s average with runners in scoring position.  Last year, the Bluejays batted .284 with RISP, as six Jays finished with 13 or more hits in that situation, led by Amy Baker’s .489 mark and Renae Sinkler’s .469 average with RISP.  This year, the Jays are hitting only .266 with runners in scoring positon.  Creighton’s top two hitters with RISP this year are both slap-hitters – Danai Martin (.435) and Ellen Homan (.341).  Homan, who has hit leadoff in half of CU’s games, leads the team with 15 hits with RISP.  Martin has 10 hits with RISP, producing four of her five RBI this year.  Baker, who was 23-of-47 (.489) with RISP last year, is 11-for-54 (.204) in the same situations this season.

Take the Extra Base: Another factor in Creighton’s scoring drop this season might be attributed to its lack of extra-base hits.  The Bluejays have homered 36 times this season, but only three times in the last 13 games.  CU has a league-low 24 doubles, on pace for its lowest doubles total in a season since 1992.  The Bluejays, who set a school-record with 66 home runs last year, averaged 2.1 extra-base hits per game in 2010.  The 2011 Bluejays are averaging only 1.3 extra-base hits per game.

Baker Breaks Through:  Sophomore Amy Baker leads the MVC with 16 home runs this season, a career high, which is tied for second in single-season school history.  The Bluejay catcher hit a home run at Indiana State on April 30, snapping a streak of 11 consecutive games without hitting a home run.  Of Baker’s 16 home runs this year, 14 game during a 17-game span between March 11 and April 12.  Baker now ranks fourth in school history with her 31 career home runs.

Slow Starters:  Creighton has scored just 17 runs in the first inning this year, compared to 34 scored by opponents.  Opponents have out-scored the Bluejays 79-41 in the first two innings of games this year.  The Bluejays are hitting just .187 in the first inning this year, their worst hitting inning.

Two Can Play that Game: For the first time since 2005, the Bluejays have two players with at least 10 stolen bases in a season.  Danai Martin leads the team and ranks foruth in the MVC with 15 stolen bases this spring, while Ellen Homan has 13 stolen bases.  Martin’s 14 steals are the most by a Bluejay since Melanie Dorsey had 24 steals in 2005.  That same 2005 season, Dorsey was joined by Katie Ayers (12 steals) with more than 10 stolen bases.

Buel Dominance: Creighton continued its dominant play at Drake’s Buel Field this season, winning its 13th consecutive game on the Bulldogs’ home field with a 2-1 win on April 27.  The Jays have now won seven straight against Drake in Des Moines, four games in the MVC Tournament last year and a doubleheader against UNI in 2009.  The Jays last lost at Buel Field on April 5, 2006.

Hawkeye Heaven: Freshman Becca Changstrom enjoyed pitching in the state of Iowa this year, posting a perfect record in seven appearances.  The rookie hurler went a perfect 6-0 with a 0.92 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 38 innings pitched in Iowa this year.  She hurled two shutouts and was part of a combined shutout, allowing only 19 hits and a .143 average in her work in the state this year.

Freshmen Performing in a Pinch: Freshman McKenna Setlik has established herself as Creighton’s top pinch-hitter this season, collecting five hits in 15 pinch-hit at bats for a .333 average.  She has two pinch-hit RBI this spring, tied for the team-lead with four other teammates – three of which are freshmen.  Rookies MaKenzie Michael, Blair Lowe and Brittnie Kreiser each have two pinch-hit RBI this season, as does sophomore Emily Perry.  Of Creighton’s 12 pinch-hits this season, 10 have come off the bats of freshmen.

He’s a Winner:  Head coach Brent Vigness captured win No. 565 as Creighton’s leader on March 31 at Iowa State, a 9-3 win in Ames - just 30 miles from where he attended high school in Zearing, Iowa.  The win moved him past Creighton Athletics Hall of Famer Mary Higgins for not only the softball record victory total, but he is now the winningest coach in Creighton athletics history – any sport.  In his 18th season, he is the most tenured softball coach in school history, surpassing Higgins’ 17 seasons between 1977-93.

Bohle is Better: Sophomore Jennifer Bohle has enjoyed Missouri Valley Conference play this season, as she is hitting a team-leading .333 inside of Valley play.  The infielder who has started all 48 games this season, hit just .175 in non-conference games.  The converted slap-hitter has 18 hits in 21 MVC games, while she had just 10 hits in 27 non-conference games.

Against the Best: Creighton is 0-5 against top-25 teams this spring, losing twice to Nebraska, twice to Arizona State and once to Arizona, while both Pac-10 teams were ranked in the top-10.  The Bluejays have at least one top-25 win in each of the past six seasons.  The last time Creighton did not have a win against a nationally-ranked team was 2004, when the Jays went 0-4 against the top-25 – all four losses against nationally-ranked Nebraska.  Since 2005, the Bluejays are now 16-28-1 (.367) against top-25 teams.  CU’s last victory over a ranked opponent was a 2-1 win on Feb. 14, 2010 against No. 15 Northwestern in Tempe, Ariz.

Becca Brings Her Bat: Freshman pitcher Becca Changstrom worked her bat into the starting lineup at Missouri State (April 9-10) and has recently been in the batting order when she is in the circle.  The left-handed swinging right-hander singled in her first at bat – her first career hit – against MSU and came around to score the first run of the game in CU’s 4-1 series-opening win.  On April 10 at MSU, after she allowed two runs in the first inning, she got them back in the second inning, driving in a pair of runs on a bases-loaded single, in which she fouled off seven pitches in a 10-pitch at bat.  She singled in her second at bat and dropped down a sac bunt in her third trip to the plate in CU’s 4-3 win.  Her sacrifice fly RBI provided one of CU’s two runs in a 2-1 win at Drake on April 27.

Baker Player of the Week (x2): For the second time this year and the fourth time in her career, Amy Baker was named the MVC Player of the Week on April 4.  Baker hit a home run in five of her six games during the week, including a solo shots at No. 13 Nebraska and Iowa State, and a home run in each game of CU’s three-game set with Bradley.  For the week she hit .429 (9-21) with five home runs and nine RBI.

Snygg’s Heroics: Sammy Snygg is the Iowa prep record-holder with 49 home runs hit at North Polk High School, but the sophomore had yet to hit a big fly in her collegiate career before last weekend.  The sophomore picked a perfect time to hit her first home run as a Bluejay on April 2, launching a towering fly ball just inside the left field foul pole in the bottom of the eighth-inning against Bradley, giving the Jays a 4-3 walk-off win.  It was CU’s first walk-off home run since Michelle Graner hit one on May 3, 2009 and the first Bluejay homer in extra-innings since Graner did so at Drake on April 21, 2010.

Lucky 13: Freshman Becca Changstrom struck out a career-high 13 batters in a 7-1 win over Bradley on April 2.  The 13 Ks equal the highest strikeout total in a game by a Bluejay since the 2008 season.  Tara Oltman twice struck out 13 in 2010, while no Bluejay has fanned more than 13 in a game since Oltman struck out a career-high 14 against Illinois State  on April 21, 2007.  Changstrom has now struck out at least 10 in a game three times this season.

Amy’s Records: Amy Baker set Creighton freshman records last year for home runs (15), RBI (46) and total bases (109).  She has set another school record this year, as her 16 home runs are the most by a sophomore in school history and are tied for second in single-season history.  She is now the only player in school history with two seasons of at least 15 home runs.  Her 31 career home runs rank fourth in school history.

Baker’s Blasts: Amy Baker hit scoreboards at Nebraska (March 30) and Iowa State (March 31) with monster home runs and enters this weekend having homered in each of her last three games.  The sophomore was named the MVC Player of the Week (March 14) after an amazing three-game span at the Diamond Devil Invitational in Tempe, Ariz.  Baker hit five home runs in a doubleheader on March 11, tying the school record by hitting three home runs in a game against Campbell on March 11.  She followed with another blast on Saturday, giving her six home runs in the span of eight plate appearances.  All six of her hits during the week were home runs, while she topped the team with 11 RBI in six games (March 8-12).

Doubles Down: Creighton ranks last in the MVC with just 24 doubles in 48 games.  The Jays have 16 fewer doubles than the next closest team in the league.  At this rate, the Bluejays are on pace for just 26 doubles during the regular-season, which would be the fewest ever under Brent Vigness – 10 fewer than the 36 hit by the 2003 squad.  Should the Jays stay on this pace, it will be the fewest two-baggers hit by the Jays since the 1992 team finished with 21 doubles.

Shutout Streak Snapped:  Freshman pitcher Becca Changstrom tossed three consecutive shutouts (March 12-19) and had a scoreless innings streak to 25.1 which was ended when she surrendered a two-run home run with no outs in the first inning at No. 13 Nebraska on March 30.  She went from March 11 to March 30 between runs allowed.  The rookie became the first Bluejay to throw a shutout in three straight starts since All-American Tara Oltman did so as a sophomore in 2008.

Sacrificing in Two Ways:  Senior shortstop Liz McKewon ranks second in the MVC with 11 sacrifice bunts.  She has now dropped down 42 sac bunts in her career, moving her into a tie for seventh place in school history in sac bunts.  Not only does she sacrifice her at bats, but she also has sacrificed her body, getting hit by a pitch 17 times in her career to rank fifth in school history in that category.  McKewon has been hit by almost as many pitches in her career as her career base on balls total (18).

MVC Players of the Week: Freshman Becca Changstrom was named the MVC Pitcher of the Week and junior Christa Ruf was named the MVC Player of the Week on March 21 following their play at Evansville.  Changstrom flirted with two no-hitters, carrying a no-hitter into the sixth in a two-hit shutout on Mach 19 before coming within one out of a no-no on March 20.  She hurled 14 innings against UE, allowing just three hits in two complete game shutouts.  Ruf went 3-for-4 with two home runs and all four RBI in Creighton’s 4-0 win on March 20.  She also walked three times, scored three runs and had a .600 on-base percentage during the three-game set.

Martin Gets Moving: Danai Martin leads the  team and ranks second in the MVC with 15 stolen bases.  Ten of those stolen bases have come in four games, as she stole two bases in the season-opener against Western Illinois (Feb. 11), posted three stolen bases against Northern Colorado (March 4) and against Howard (March 12) and again stole two bases against North Dakota (April 12).  She became the first Bluejay since Lauren Cisneros in 2005 to swipe three bases in one game.  The sophomore’s 15 steals are the most by a Bluejay since Melanie Dorsey had 24 stolen bases in 2005.

Hovinga Hurls No-Hitter: Junior pitcher Kylie Hovinga tossed the first Bluejay no-hitter in two seasons in a 10-0 win over Centenary on Feb. 25 at the UTA Classic in Arlington, Texas.  The left-hander walked one and struck out five in the five-inning no-no.  It was the 17th no-hitter thrown by the Bluejays during head coach Brent Vigness’ tenure.
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