Friday’s outing will likely be a memorable one for Creighton freshman pitcher Tommy Strunc — though it almost became one the Bluejays would like to forget.
Strunc, who hadn’t allowed a hit through eight innings, saw his no-hit bid vanish on the first pitch of the ninth inning, then watched from the dugout as the bullpen hung on for a 4-3 win against Southern Illinois in front of 2,198 at TD Ameritrade Park.
Strunc was dominant from the outset, striking out the first five batters he faced and eight of the first 10 on his way to retiring the first 11 Salukis.
Strunc (5-1) struggled with his control in the middle and late innings, walking five, but was able to work out of every jam, finishing with 122 pitches.
“This is definitely one of the best starts of my career, and I’m going to remember it forever,” Strunc said.
Perhaps the hardest hit ball off Strunc came in the eighth, when a line drive tore his glove off.
After he walked Ryan Rosthenhausler with two outs, Jake Welch ripped a liner to Strunc’s right.
Strunc tried to snare the ball before it got past him, and as he did, the ball ripped his glove loose. The glove landed behind the mound along with the ball.
Strunc was able to get to the ball and fire to first in time to get Welch, ending the inning and keeping the no-hitter intact.
“You could ask me to make that play 10 more times, and I’m not going to make it,” Strunc said. “I thought I saved (the no-hitter), but I still had one more inning to go.”
With the Bluejays (20-9, 6-4 Missouri Valley) leading 4-0, Rennie Troggio spoiled Strunc’s bid in the ninth on a ground ball up the middle.
Jake Peter — who hadn’t allowed an earned run or extra-base hit entering Friday — relieved Strunc and got rocked.
Peter allowed a first-pitch double to Matt Jones, and then served up a 1-1 pitch to Austin Montgomery, who blasted it over the left-field wall to cut CU’s lead to 4-3.
Peter was able to force Ryan Casillas and Luke Mottashed into groundouts, then got Cody Daily to pop up for the final out.
Creighton coach Ed Servais said he thought about taking Strunc out of the game and letting his bullpen finish, but said he wanted to know how far he could push the freshman.
“When I went out there in the seventh, I was very close to (pulling him),” Servais said. “And I said to myself, ‘I got to find this thing out. I got to find out how far this kid can go.’
“If we don’t find it out in a game like tonight, maybe we never will.”
The Bluejays took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Kevin Lamb’s two-out single scored Landon Lucansky from second. The RBI was Lamb’s 20th this season.
A three-run moonshot down the left-field line by Alex Staehely in the third gave the Bluejays a 4-0 lead. The homer was Staehely’s second of the year and just the second Creighton round-tripper in the past 34 games at TD Ameritrade Park.
Staehely hit the other homer in that span on March 31, 2012.
The teams continue their three-game series at 2 p.m. Saturday before wrapping things up at 4:05 p.m. Sunday.