NORMAL, Ill. — A couple of Omaha guys took special delight Wednesday in helping Wichita State hasten Creighton's departure from the Missouri Valley.
Casey Gillaspie, a sophomore first baseman from Millard North, drove in three runs and A.J. Ladwig, a sophomore from Millard West, pitched a complete game as the Shockers eliminated the Bluejays with an 11-4 victory at the conference tournament.
The game was Creighton's last in any sport as a member of the Valley. The Bluejays join the new Big East on July 1.
“It feels good to do that in what was Creighton's last Missouri Valley game,” said Ladwig, who evened his record at 5-5 with his first career complete game.
Gillaspie was a bit more emphatic in describing the significance of the win that kept his team alive in the double-elimination portion of the tournament at Duffy Bass Field.
“To be honest, Creighton is the team that I can't stand losing to the most, just because I'm from there,” Gillaspie said. “It's nothing personal, but being from Omaha, I grew up hearing all about Creighton.
“It was good for us to come out here, take care of them and send them home.”
The third-seeded Bluejays (30-18) came to the tournament with an outside shot of earning an at-large spot in the NCAA tournament, but back-to-back losses to Indiana State and the Shockers likely put an end to those hopes.
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“I thought if we could get two wins here, we'd have a chance,” Creighton coach Ed Servais said. “No guarantees, but a chance. I don't know if the players felt that added pressure. I thought it was noticeable yesterday against Indiana State.
“I didn't feel that way as much today. Wichita State just got us on our heels for the better part of the game.”
Second-seeded Wichita State scored more runs in the first inning than it had total in a 5-1 loss to Southern Illinois in Tuesday's opening round. Creighton freshman Austin Groth gave up hits to the first five batters he faced in lasting just one-third of an inning.
Tyler Baker doubled in the first run and Gillaspie singled in two more to make it 3-0. Only a web-gem catch in center field by Mike Gerber and a strikeout-caught stealing double play to end the inning kept the damage from being worse.
“They came out strong and put us on our heels,” Gerber said. “We were playing catch-up the rest of the game. You obviously want to be the aggressor in an elimination game.”
Compounding what Wichita State did in its half of the first was what Creighton failed to do in its opening at-bats. Federico Castagnini doubled with one out and Jake Peter singled him to third, but Ladwig stranded the runners by striking out Gerber and getting Alex Staehely to pop out.
“We had a chance to score a run in the first inning, and you don't know how that might have changed that bottom half,” Servais said. “Give Wichita State credit. They came out attacking.
“Before we could get a guy up in the bullpen, it's 3-0. That first inning set the tone for the rest of the day.”
Wichita State collected 17 hits off seven Creighton pitchers and had an answer each time the Bluejays made a bid to get back into the game. Creighton got a run in the second, but Gillaspie's 10th homer of the season was part of a two-run third for the Shockers.
Reagan Fowler sandwiched a triple between two singles to pull Creighton within 5-3 in the fourth, but Wichita State scored two runs in each of the fifth, sixth and seventh innings to seal the Bluejays' fate.
Ladwig gave up 10 hits but struck out a career-high eight, including four as he retired nine of the last 10 batters he faced.
“A.J. did a workmanlike job,” Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson said. “He wasn't perfect, but he battled and competed very well. He was able to throw all three pitches for strikes. I'm proud of him.”
Asked about Ladwig's ability to make big pitches when he had to, Stephenson smiled and replied, “He's an Omaha boy. Why wouldn't he?”
Creighton couldn't get the Shockers' other Omaha boy out as Gillaspie walked three times to go along with his two hits. He scored two runs.
“We just came out today and left it all on the field,” Gillaspie said. “That's what we're going to have to do, or we're going to be going home.”
Wichita State (35-26) will face Southern Illinois on Thursday. The Shockers will need to win three more games over the next two days to reach Saturday's championship contest.
Meanwhile, Creighton headed home knowing that it had played well at times during the season but failed to produce when it meant the most.
“We knew what we had to do coming down here,” Servais said, “and we failed to do it.”
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