Creighton’s thrilling run through the loser’s bracket came to a screeching halt as the Jays struggled to keep pace with Michigan in a winner-take-all regional final Monday night.
CU lost 17-6. The wheels fell off late. A disappointing way to finish, certainly.
But consider that last year only two of the 16 regional champions suffered a loss in their NCAA tournament openers. There were two first-game losers who won a regional in 2017. And just one advanced in 2016.
East Carolina did it this weekend, but the Pirates, seeded No. 10 overall, had the benefit of their home field.
Creighton found out the hard way Monday why so few teams are able to win five NCAA regional games in four days. CU's reliable pitchers ran out of gas.
Still, the Jays gave it a memorable try.
Creighton knocked out Oregon State, the reigning national champs, on its home field. CU used a seven-run ninth inning to erase a three-run deficit and stay alive Sunday night.
There were highlight-reel catches, goliath home runs and perfectly placed out-pitches. For four days, momentum ping-ponged back and forth between dugouts of the Jays and their opponents. It was tense, competitive, passion-filled baseball. If you followed it all, you ran out of nails to bite.
Yet now, suddenly, the season is over.
Reality is, the Jays missed on a chance to make their first-ever super regional. And that stings.
But this CU ballclub left its mark this weekend.
Here are three takeaways:
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» The Jays didn’t hold back.
Sure, they weren’t at their best in Friday’s opener, a 6-0 loss to Michigan. They were shut out and humbled — then banished to the loser’s bracket. But they quickly settled in. Creighton wasn’t always perfect this weekend but it played some of its best baseball of the year during stretches in Corvallis.
The Jays built an unflappable (maybe, irrational?) confidence during the offseason, and they carried it all the way into June. That’s commendable — particularly for a group of players that hadn’t experienced this big stage before.
» The long winter made CU stronger.
The Jays managed to conduct just 1½ outdoor practices during the preseason — and they had to shovel snow off their field just to make that happen. They experienced an 11-day stretch without games, and they didn't play at home until March 26. The winter was lonnnggg. And it could have disrupted CU’s players' routine to the point where it became an excuse.
But Creighton’s veterans didn’t allow that to happen.
Impromptu doubleheaders? Suspended games? Inconsistent start times? The Jays dealt with it all. And they developed some mental toughness because of that — which was on display this weekend.
» Ed Servais still has it.
Creighton missed the Big East tournament for the first time ever. Its NCAA regional drought extended to six consecutive years. The winningest coach in program history wasn’t on athletic director Bruce Rasmussen’s hot seat — but Servais felt compelled to make some changes.
CU started recruiting a different type of athlete to drift away from a small-ball approach. Servais examined the practice routine, strength and conditioning, and the scheduling principles. This season’s successes were a product of the adjustments.
But what does it mean for 2020, and beyond? That’s hard to say.
The Jays are expected to lose at least their top two hitters and their three weekend starters. CU now faces a rebuild. This season did prove, at least, that even in a mid-major league, Creighton can still aim to produce NCAA regional contenders.