Brad McKewon got the momentum back on Creighton's side midway through Saturday's game against Bradley.
Mark Lukowski made sure it stayed there, pitching a career-high five innings of shutout relief to finish off the Bluejays' 7-5 victory before 2,375 fans at TD Ameritrade Park.
Lukowski made just one big mistake in his 55-pitch outing when, with two outs and the bases loaded in the fifth, he tried to sneak a first-pitch changeup past Bradley's Mike Tauchman. His triple down the right-field line tied the game at 5.
“If I could have that pitch back,” Lukowski said, “I'd take it.”
He bounced back to strand Tauchman by getting Bradley's cleanup hitter, Greg Partyka, on an infield out. McKewon then helped Creighton regain the lead with a two-out single to center field in the Bluejays' half of the fifth.
“Bradley had the momentum at that point, but to get that run there got it back for us,” McKewon said. “It put the pressure right back on them and took it off our pitcher and our defense. We were able to play more relaxed and loose.”
Lukowski looked plenty of both as he tore through the Bradley lineup in the final four innings. The Braves didn't get a runner past second base, and the sophomore retired the side in order in the seventh and eighth innings to earn him the right to finish the game.
Creighton coach Ed Servais had Bryan Sova warming up in the eighth but had him sit back down.
“Mark was in such a groove that as tempted as I was to go to Bryan, I just decided to stay with him,” Servais said of Lukowski. “What really impressed me today was Mark's competitiveness.
“He's supposed to be a one- or two-inning guy, but I can't say enough about what he did for us today. For him to go five is outstanding, and they really didn't have a sniff off of him.”
Lukowski's five innings came in his 11th appearance of the season. He's pitched 22 innings and allowed just 17 hits. His ERA dropped to 2.86 and his record rose to 4-1.
As a freshman last season, the right-hander from Papillion-La Vista South threw 32⁄3 innings over four games. Opponents hit .353 against him and he finished with a 7.36 ERA.
He downplayed the development that has been as vital as it's been dramatic for a team that started the season with plenty of question marks on the mound.
“I'm just trying to do my best to help my team out,” Lukowski said. “I'm feeling a little more comfortable every time I go out there, but as I've said before, my defense behind me takes so much of the pressure off of me.
“I just have to go out there and pound the zone because they're going to help out behind me.”
In turn, Lukowski's success has had an impact on his teammates.
“We've always had confidence in Mark,” McKewon said. “But we know that when he comes in, he's going to throw strikes. That makes it a lot easier to play behind him.”
Creighton backed starter Nick Musec and Lukowski with a 12-hit attack. Alex Staehely and Federico Castagnini had three hits apiece, while Staehely and Mike Gerber each drove in two runs.
The Bluejays jumped to a 5-1 lead after four innings before Musec ran into trouble, giving up two hits to open the fifth and then walking the next two hitters to force in a run. Lukowski entered in relief and almost got out of the inning with a strikeout and a forceout before Tauchman's triple tied the game.
McKewon's single off losing pitcher Eric Scheuermann (2-2) put Creighton back in front, and Staehely's eighth-inning RBI single gave Lukowski an extra run to work with. He didn't need it, as he pitched around a two-out single in the ninth to finish off the win that improved his team to 17-6.
Creighton also remained tied for first in the Missouri Valley with Wichita State at 4-1. Bradley dropped to 11-15 and 1-4.
“The makeup of this team is that it's been pretty resilient,” Servais said. “We showed that again today.”
Contact the writer:
402-679-2298, email@example.com; twitter.com/PivOWH