MASON, Ohio — Creighton scored three times in the eighth and ninth innings to complete a 10-9 win in the opening round of the Big East tournament Thursday.
The Bluejays (36-11) trailed nearly the entire way against a spunky Seton Hall squad, which hammered conference pitcher of the year Mitch Ragan from the start and built an 8-4 lead after seven innings.
But Creighton recovered just in time — perhaps aided by a 58-minute weather delay in the eighth.
Sophomore David Vilches hit a solo home run after play resumed. Then, four batters later, junior Parker Upton drilled a two-run shot to pull the Jays within 8-7. Seton Hall (25-27) did add an insurance run in the ninth, but No. 25 Creighton produced a last-at-bat rally.
After a wild pitch moved two runners into scoring position, freshman Jared Wegner tied the game at 9-9 with a two-out, two-run single. Wegner stole second before sophomore Will Hanafan came through with the unconventional game-winner.
Hanafan hit a high chopper that Seton Hall’s first baseman couldn’t handle. The grounder bounced off his glove and skipped toward second base — but the charging shortstop accidentally overran the ricochet and couldn’t dive back in time to stop the baseball from rolling toward the outfield grass. The ball never left the infield, yet Wegner was able to sprint past third and glide into home.
The CU bench immediately emptied as the Jays celebrated along the first-base line. It was their fourth win of the year when trailing after eight innings.
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“It’s a crazy, crazy game,” Creighton coach Ed Servais said on the Big East Digital Network. “(Seton Hall) came out and kind of jumped on us early. We weren’t ready to go out of the blocks. I thought they played an excellent game — it’s too bad it ended on a fluke play like that. But at this time of the year, you take ’em. And you move on to the next game.”
Creighton, the top seed and the league’s regular-season champion, will face No. 3 seed St. John’s (30-21) in the tournament’s second round 5:30 p.m. Friday at Prasco Park. The winner moves to Sunday’s title game.
The Jays were most certainly the favorite coming into the event. They’d won five in a row. They entered with a 10-1 record in May. They outscored Seton Hall 19-3 in a series sweep last month.
But CU looked quite vulnerable Thursday.
Ragan didn’t make it through five innings for the first time since March. He gave up a season-high 10 hits and seven earned runs in just 4 1⁄3 innings. A two-run triple in the second inning and a two-run homer in the fifth were the biggest blows.
Creighton initially struggled to answer, going 1 for 13 with runners on base in the third through the seventh innings.
But then came the weather delay. Servais said afterward that he spoke to the team about the increased pressure Seton Hall would feel to maintain its momentum. The Jays had a chance, he said.
They took advantage of it.
Servais said he saw the demeanor of his team change in those late innings. The players had more energy. They showed more emotion.
“That’s how we’ve got to play,” he said. “I really believe when we play like that, we’re a tough out. We’re a tough team to beat. Hopefully, we learned (Thursday).”
The Jays remain in good shape to earn an at-large berth to an NCAA regional. But they’ve never won a Big East tournament championship. So that’s the goal this weekend.
Big East tournament
ST. JOHN’S 2, XAVIER 0: Joe LaSorsa and Gavin Hollowell combined on a five-hit shutout to lead third-seeded St. John’s.
LaSorsa retired 11 straight at one point as he worked into the eighth inning, striking out three and walking none. Hollowell retired the final five batters for the save.
Three of Xavier’s hits came in the first two innings. The Musketeers never had a runner reach third base.
Sean McGeehan scored both St. John’s runs, first in the fifth and then an insurance run in the ninth. Mike Antico had three hits with an RBI while Ryan Hogan also finished with three hits.
Game 3: Seton Hall vs. Xavier, 1:30 p.m.
Game 4: Creighton vs. St. John’s, 5:30 p.m.
Game 5: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 loser, 1:30 p.m.
Noon and, if necessary, 3:30 p.m.