OMAHA, Neb. -Becca Changstrom hurled a three-hit shutout, blanking the top hitting team in the Missouri Valley Conference in a 1-0 Creighton softball win over Illinois State in the first of two games Saturday at the CU Sports Complex. Amy Baker's league-leading 17th home run of the year was the difference, as the Bluejays upset league-leading Illinois State to snap a six-game home losing streak. The Bluejays led 2-0 through five innings in game two, but two late home runs from the Redbirds keyed a comeback for a 4-2 ISU win.
Changstrom allowed only three hits in the opener, but had to work out of a bases loaded mess in the top of the first inning. She alternated walks and strikeouts to the first five hitters of the game, loading the bases for Laura Canopy. The ISU first baseman took the first two pitches for balls, but Changstrom battled back and caught Canopy looking to strike out the side and leave the bases loaded.
The Bluejays put one runner on base in each of the first two innings, but ISU starter Jordan Birch faced the minimum through two innings as the Bluejays were cut down attempting to steal in the first inning and ISU turned a double play in the second inning to keep the game scoreless.
The only run of game one came in the bottom of the fourth inning when Baker unloaded on Birch's 2-2 offering to launch a towering blast well beyond the fence in center field (video below). The homer was her 17th of the season, putting her alone in second place in single-season school history.
The CU defense and Changstrom made Baker's home run hold, with two key plays coming in ISU's final at bat. Pinch-hitter Jessica Roche led off the seventh with a single to right field. Roche was then caught stealing as she wondered off first base on what she thought was ball four to Jhavon Hamilton. Hamilton then lifted a ball to right field which appeared destined to land beyond the fence when it left the bat. Creighton right fielder Emily Perry turned and went back, found the fence and then found the ball as it landed in her out-stretched glove over the fence, robbing the tying run for the second out of the inning.
The league's leading hitter then strolled to the plate, as Kara Nelson looked to extend her 25-game hitting streak. Changstrom stuck out Nelson to end the game and Nelson's hitting streak.
Changstrom improved to 17-9 with her eighth shutout of the season. The rookie fell one strikeout shy of her career-high, fanning 12 against five walks. She scattered just three hits to a team hitting .303 as a unit entering the game.
Birch fanned six and allowed only five hits in a complete game loss in the opener.
Liz McKewon was 2-for-2 for two of CU's five hits in the opener. The lone CU senior was then honored between games of the doubleheader.
In the second game, it appeared for a short while that another Baker solo home run might be the difference. The Bluejay catcher lined a home run over the right field fence (video below) with two outs in the bottom of the first inning to give the Jays an early 1-0 lead.
The Redbirds threatened to get on the board in the fourth inning, as Abby Olson reached to lead off the inning on an error by McKewon. Elizabeth Kay followed with an infield single and the Redbirds appeared poised to dent the scoreboard for the first time on the day. Bluejay head coach Brent Vigness then opted to pull starter Brittany Telecky and put in game one winner Changstrom. The Redbirds loaded the bases with no outs, but Changstrom struck out Caiti Kopp and Sara Bradley before inducing a ground out to end the inning and keep the Bluejays ahead 1-0.
Changstrom then helped herself in the bottom of the fifth inning, driving in a run on a single up the middle, scoring pinch-runner Danai Martin who had stolen her team-leading 16th base of the year to put herself in scoring position.
The Redbirds finally got on the board in the sixth inning, taking advantage of an extra out allowed by the normally steady CU defense. With one on and two outs, Roche hit a slow roller to the right of Changstrom. The Bluejay hurled did well to field the ball well out of the circle, but then threw wildly to first base and there were runners at the corners for the hot-hitting Hamilton. The ISU designated player ripped the first pitch she saw over the right center field fence on a line and the Redbirds led 3-2 on Hamilton's seventh homer of the year.
ISU would add an insurance run on Abby Olson's 14th home run of the year in the top of the seventh to lead 4-2.
Creighton put together a rally in the bottom of the seventh, bringing the go-ahead run to the plate with two outs following singles from Christa Ruf and Ellen Homan. McKewon scorched a 1-0 offering from Birch right at Olson at third base for the final out of the game and the Redbirds earned the doubleheader split.
Hamilton finished 3-for-3 for ISU in game two, leading the Redbirds' nine-hit attack. Nelson finished game two 2-for-4 after an 0-for-2 game one.
The pitchers of record in game one, were once again the pitchers of record in game two. Birch picked up the win, throwing 2.2 innings of scoreless relief. She improved to 16-5, striking out six out of the pen.
Changstrom allowed five hits and only one earned run, falling to 17-10 after working four innings in relief. She struck out six to finish the twin bill with 18 Ks. She now has 168 Ks this year, ranking ninth in single-season school history. Telecky hurled three innings of scoreless softball to extend her scoreless innings streak to 17.2.
The Bluejays (24-26, 12-12 MVC) will enter the final day of the regular-season tied with Missouri State for fifth place with a 12-12 Valley mark. ISU will aim for the regular-season championship, carrying a 34-16 overall mark and league-leading 20-5 record into Sunday. CU and ISU wrap up the season with a single game at noon on Sunday.