Ed Servais’ message to his Creighton hitters since last fall has been simple.
The Bluejays must try to find ways to milk a little more out of their offense.
“We’re not asking them to go from averaging five runs to eight or nine,” Servais said. “There’s a very fine line between what we have to do and what we’ve been doing.”
Creighton’s chances of advancing to NCAA regional play the past two seasons were foiled by losses in the championship game of the Big East tournament.
Still, Servais knows that a little more offensive juice could have given the Bluejays the wins they needed for an at-large bid.
“We need to score some more runs, and I’m eager to see how this veteran team responds,” Servais said. “We’ve really challenged them all fall and in the early workouts that we have to become more offensive.”
In 2014, when the Bluejays won the Big East regular-season title, they averaged 5.4 runs while posting a 32-17-1 record. That offensive average dropped to 5.1 runs last season, when the Bluejays went 32-19 and finished second in the regular season.
Creighton lost nine games by one run and dropped two contests by two runs in 2015. The Bluejays were 5-5 in one-run games at TD Ameritrade Park.
“We left about four or five wins on the field last season,” Servais said.
His players are well aware.
“It puts it into perspective how close we are, especially after coming up short two years in a row,” first baseman Reagan Fowler said. “It’s not like we drastically have to change things, just one or two runs here and there.”
Fowler has been the Bluejays’ most consistent offensive producer the past two seasons. He led the team in hitting with a .362 batting average in 2014 while batting .319 in 2015, when he battled back problems most of the second half of the season.
Healthy now, Fowler is part of Servais’ most veteran team in 14 seasons as head coach. The Bluejays return seven starting position players and a staff that accounted for 93 percent of the innings pitched in 2015.
Fowler said he’s noticed a greater sense of urgency from this group in fall practice and the individual workouts.
“We have a lot of guys coming in and working on their offense,” he said. “They’re getting extra swings in at night and in the morning. You can just tell that they’re more mentally ready than last year.”
Servais and his staff have tried to tweak the team’s offensive approach.
“Hitting sometimes can be over-coached,” Servais said. “With young players, as they come through the ranks with their youth and high-school programs, a lot of them all have individual hitting coaches. Sometimes I think there’s too much going on between the ears.
“We’re trying to simplify it. See the ball, trust your swing and don’t get more complicated than that. That’s been a big emphasis for us.”
Also an emphasis with Servais is the need to get his hitters to embrace playing at TD Ameritrade. The cavernous park has had a major impact on offensive production, both for the Bluejays and the College World Series.
This season marks Creighton’s sixth in the stadium. In 116 games over the previous five, the Bluejays have averaged 4.88 runs.
“I think sometimes we look at TD Ameritrade and say we have trouble scoring runs because it’s not a hitters’ park,” Servais said. “We have to get over that. We’ve been playing at that ballpark for five years now.
“It’s not a home-run ballpark, but it’s conducive to the style we like to play. We’re going to hit-and-run. We’re going to steal. We’re going to bunt. We’re going to try to put a lot of pressure on the defense. That should play at TD.”
Servais is encouraged by the growth he’s seen from individual players in the offseason. Shortstop Nicky Lopez hit seven home runs in a wood-bat summer league after not hitting one last season.Starting outfielders Daniel Woodrow and Kevin Connolly appear ready to make strides, Servais said.
“And we’re looking for Reagan, now that he’s healthy, to show us he’s more of the hitter that he was a sophomore versus last year,” Servais said. “Harrison Crawford and Ryan Fitzgerald had good year last year.
“We just need a little more from some of our other guys. They know they can produce more offensively. They’re certainly capable of doing that.”
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