Creighton’s No. 1 starting pitcher once reached out to Wayne State’s staff to try to make the case that he was worth a roster spot.
That was four years ago, when Mitch Ragan didn’t have any college scholarship offers out of Millard West. He’d been stuck on the sideline for two seasons, trying to rehab from Tommy John surgery and a separate elbow injury.
But he still wanted to pitch. So he called the Division II school where his brother played.
“I just needed a place to go,” Ragan said.
Ragan’s been capitalizing on his opportunities ever since.
He spent a year at Wayne State before joining Iowa Western. Then Creighton’s staff got word of his improvement.
Now Ragan’s the Creighton ace. He has been starting the first game of weekend series all year.
He’ll take the mound Thursday for likely the final home game of his Creighton career. The Bluejays (32-11, 11-4) are well positioned to extend their season into June — but they have to travel to Ohio for next week’s Big East tournament and they’re a fringe contender to host an NCAA regional.
Ragan isn’t ready to think about the end just yet.
But he acknowledged this week that he has tried his best to cherish special moments during his senior season. Thursday’s game is another meaningful occasion for a local kid who grew up dreaming of playing on college baseball’s biggest stage, and worked hard to get here.
“Early on in my career … I treated baseball too much like a job,” he said. “I really didn’t enjoy it as much as I have this year. I’ve focused more on having fun — putting my teammates first.
“I’ve had more fun with this group of guys than I ever have with anybody else.”
That mentality has trickled down throughout Creighton’s roster.
The team hasn’t relied on one leader or tone-setter this season. It has a dugout full of them — and that seems to have kept the pressure off veterans like Ragan.
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Because there is a responsibility to perform, Ragan said. But he credited his teammates for helping him settle in.
Half of the earned runs Ragan’s allowed this year came in his first five starts. He has a 2.75 ERA in eight outings since — and the Jays are 7-1 in those games.
“If you want to be good, you better have a Friday night guy,” CU coach Ed Servais said. “Otherwise you’re not going to win a lot of series. He has a lot of poise. The moment’s not too big for him.”
The Bluejays will need Ragan at his best again Thursday.
If Creighton can sweep Villanova — it’s 14-1 against the Wildcats since joining the league — CU would win the Big East regular-season title. One loss, and the crown goes to Xavier (23-28, 12-4).
Ragan understands that. He’s glad that his team has his back.
Plus, he’s not been one to back away from a challenge.
Wayne State. To Iowa Western. To Creighton. That’s not a conventional route. But he said it’s prepared him to handle games like Thursday’s series opener. You embrace the opportunity.
“Obviously, I’ve always wanted (this role). Growing up, I saw myself doing it — I visualized it,” Ragan said. “I just didn’t really picture (this journey). I wouldn’t have drawn it up like that. But I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. It’s really taught me a lot.”
Villanova at Creighton
6:30 p.m. Thursday (1620 AM)
RH Jimmy Kingsbury (5-4, 4.10) vs. RH Mitch Ragan (7-2, 3.65)
6:30 p.m. Friday (1620 AM)
RH Gordon Graceffo (3-7, 4.98) vs. LH Denson Hull (5-4, 5.08)
TBD vs. RH Evan Johnson (7-2, 3.25)