One of the biggest developments of Creighton's recently completed fall baseball practice was the lack of activity in the training room.
Coach Ed Servais has difficulty remembering a fall like this one, when progress was not inhibited by injury. Reliever Max Ising did miss time after tearing cartilage in his knee on the opening day of drills, but he was back throwing 91 to 92 mph by the end of the five weeks of drills.
A couple of other pitchers — starters Tommy Strunc and Austin Groth — were brought along slowly but also were throwing full speed at the end. Unlike some falls, Servais found all hands on deck for most workouts.
“I always tell guys that I can't develop them if they're not available,'' Servais said. “Normally, you have two to four guys missing workouts because of injuries that lingered from the summer or possibly from the previous spring.
“We didn't have that, and that's another reason why we were able to accelerate the development of these guys. You have to be available, and we were available this fall.''
Because of that, Servais called this fall's practice one of the best, if not the best, he's had in his 11 seasons as Creighton's head coach.
“I don't know how many wins that's going to equate to in the spring,'' Servais said. “We only had three or four practices that I walked off thinking that wasn't the kind of workout we wanted to have.
“There are usually a few more of those in the fall because players for obvious reasons have a hard time focusing in the fall. This group was locked in from the get-go, and there were very few practices where I didn't think we got enough accomplished.''
Also figuring into the solid performance was Servais and his staff was working with a veteran group. A year ago, Creighton had 18 new players on its roster. In addition, Servais' two full-time coaches — Spencer Allen and Tom Lipari — were new to the program.
The Bluejays only had eight new players this fall. Starters were back at five of the eight positions in the field, and the freshmen that made up more than half the pitching staff last season owned a spring and summer of valuable experience.
Instead of spending time teaching players how he likes to practice, Servais had the opportunity to teach, period.
“That's big in the fall,'' he said.
Creighton's main priority in the fall was filling holes at shortstop, third base and right field. Servais said sophomore Ryan Fitzgerald and freshman Nicky Lopez appear to be ready to take over at shortstop for Alex Staehely, a four-year starter.
The Bluejays shifted sophomore Tommy Clouthier from second base to third, and he and freshman Kevin Smith performed well during the fall. Ben Lahn, who saw limited action last season as a junior college transfer, appears ready to make a greater contribution in right field.
Servais also liked the development he's seen in his young pitchers, particularly sophomores Taylor Elman, John Oltman, Will Bamesberger, Matt Warren and Groth.
A sign of Servais' optimism is that he believes his squad would be well prepared if it had to play a game tomorrow.
“A lot of times you come out of fall not knowing who you're going to play,” Servais said. “I just go back to last year when we had so many questions.
“Now one year later, we're deep behind the plate and deep on the mound. We have a first baseman that we're comfortable with, and we're comfortable with the guys on the left side of the infield. We have a three-year starter in left in Brad McKewon and a four-year starter in Mike Gerber in center.
“Now, Ben Lahn looks like he's taken a step in the right direction. We are just so much further along. This reminds me of my first couple of years when we had veteran teams and you could accelerate what you could do in the fall.”
Servais figures that experience could come in handy next spring when Creighton moves into the new Big East. There are new opponents to face, new routines to get used to as Creighton's mode of transportation changes from bus to airplane for the majority of its road trips.
“We still have a lot of things to get done between now and when we start the season,” Servais said. “There are things we need to refine, and our conditioning is very important because I want us to become more physical and more athletic.
“But I feel very good about what we got accomplished this fall.''