Creighton's Amy Baker can change a game with one swing.
So can teammate Liz Dike, though she says her home runs don't look quite so impressive.
“My home runs are usually just over the fence,” Dike said. “They are questionable in the air. When Amy Baker hits her home runs, they are bombs. They go for miles and miles.”
Baker, Dike and Blake Ringle are the power hitters in the Missouri Valley for the Bluejays, who lead the league with 48 home runs entering the conference tournament starting Thursday in Omaha. Baker, the all-time league leader, has eight, Ringle five and Dike four in Valley play. Overall, Baker has 17, Ringle eight and Dike five.
They are a formidable presence at the top of the order. Dike, a sophomore from Lincoln Southwest, hits first, and Baker, a senior from Omaha Westside, bats third. Ringle has the harder task, often coming off the bench, but the freshman from Millard South can still power it out of the park.
As for the opposing pitchers: “I think it's pretty nerve-racking for them,” Dike said. “They know we all have the ability to hit home runs. They don't want to pitch to us. They try to walk us or miss one of their spots and we'll just hit one out.”
Dike had two crucial home runs in last weekend's series against Wichita State to help ensure Creighton's seventh regular-season Valley title, and won player of the week honors for the first time.
She hit an inside-the-park homer in the opener. It was her second against the Shockers in her career, a result of being one of the fastest Bluejays. Dike hit one out in the second game to tie it 1-1, sparking a 3-1 victory that clinched the Valley crown outright.
Baker finished game two with a two-run, walk-off blast.
The home runs definitely rev up the Bluejays.
“We just all get pumped up,” Dike said.
They hope to use that power to their advantage in the Valley tournament.
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Earning the regular-season title gave Creighton (29-17, 15-7 Valley) the top seed this weekend at CU Sports Complex. Play starts Thursday with an 11:05 a.m. game between Southern Illinois and Wichita State.
The Bluejays received a bye into the semifinals and will play UNI, Southern Illinois or Wichita State at 12:05 Friday.
Home runs are much more a part of the game than they used to be, CU coach Brent Vigness said. But he wasn't trying to recruit home run hitters when he signed the three.
“I'm not a huge stat guy,” he said. “I know Amy was one of the leaders for home runs in Nebraska when I recruited her. Success in high school doesn't always translate to the next level.”
Dike, who has started nearly every game at shortstop, said it's taken a lot of work. Every home run she hit for Lincoln Southwest was to left. Now, she's able to spray the field.
She used to roll her hands, stopping her swing when she made contact with the ball. Creighton's extra hitting drills this season have paid off. With a .348 average and 48 hits, she's hitting .136 points higher than last year.
“We worked on it as soon as I got here,” she said. “It's finally starting to work.”
Vigness said the home runs are game-changers and can give a team hope in the late innings. The downside is a feast-or-famine attack, with too little offense until someone gets a big hit.
He'd like to cut down on strikeouts (CU has 329) and get more table-setters on the bases for his RBI hitters.
“We want to make sure we are balanced,” he said. “In a perfect world, fewer strikeouts up and down the lineup and more consistency.”
Dike said she doesn't think home run when she steps to the plate. Her hitting is just clicking, she said, because of hard work.
She had an 11-game hitting streak before Sunday's series finale, and though the homers were exciting, it's still team first.
“Nobody is trying to be a hero on our team,” she said. “We're just trying to help each other out.”
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