BIG EAST CHAMPIONSHIP: ST. JOHN'S 8, CREIGHTON 7
Ryan McCormick couldn't take it anymore as he watched from the dugout as Creighton turned his team's cruise to the Big East tournament title into a white-knuckle affair.
Despite throwing 114 pitches in St. John's win Friday night against the Bluejays, McCormick grabbed his glove and sprinted to the bullpen. He wanted the ball.
He eventually got it, recording the final three outs that secured a hard-fought 8-7 victory at TD Ameritrade Park that sends the Red Storm to the NCAA tournament.
"I did a little soul-search-ing there," St. John's coach Ed Blankmeyer said. "You're talking about the health of a kid's arm, but it says a lot when he comes up to you and says, 'I want this for my teammates.'
"That goes above and beyond. He wanted the ball. That's the type of kid he is."
The Bluejays erased a 5-0 deficit by sending 11 to the plate in the seventh, tying the game and leaving the bases loaded. St. John's got the lead back in its half of the seventh, then tacked on two runs in the eighth.
Creighton wasn't finished, though. Matt Gandy opened the Bluejays' ninth with a single and Landon Lucansky followed with another hit off Joe Kuzia, the Red Storm's fourth pitcher.
Blankmeyer made McCormick the fifth, and he gave up a single to Kevin Connolly that scored Gandy and moved Lucansky to third. McCormick then locked down his first career save by getting Kevin Lamb to hit into a double play that scored Lucansky before ending the game with another groundout.
"I was just trying to throw strikes and get my team the win," said McCormick, who was making his second relief appearance of the season.
The victory was the 15th straight for the Red Storm, who added the tournament title to the regular-season championship they won earlier this month. St. John's (39-14) will learn Monday where it will begin NCAA tournament play.
Creighton ended its season for the second straight year in the tournament title game. Though Blankmeyer called the Bluejays a regional-quality team, their 32-19 record won't be enough to get them a spot in the 64-team field.
After a frustrating first six innings — the Bluejays left nine runners on, including the bases loaded in the sixth — Creighton erupted in the seventh against St. John's two best relievers, Matt Clancy and Thomas Hackimer.
"We knew this was going to be our seniors' last game if we didn't pull this out," Creighton shortstop Nicky Lopez said. "Those first six innings weren't what we wanted, but we just tried to stay positive in the dugout.
"We just kept going and we made a little push."
Ryan Fitzgerald's bases-loaded single cut the deficit to 5-2. The Bluejays reloaded the bases, and Lucansky brought in a run with a groundout. Connolly beat out an infield hit to drive in the fourth run, and Hackimer, who had saved 15 games this season, hit Lamb to reload the bases.
Kuzia's first pitch hit Daniel Woodrow in the foot, forcing in the tying run, before he retired Lopez with a flyout to end the inning.
"After that inning, I called the guys together and told them let's stay loose and bounce back," said Zach Lauricella, who drove in St. John's first three runs with a bases-loaded triple. "Getting that run in the bottom of the seventh was huge for us.
"It eliminated the shutdown inning for them. It was a big-time inning for us."
Robert Wayman walked to open the St. John's seventh before Connor Miller, who had shut out the Red Storm for three innings, got a fly ball for the first out.
Creighton coach Ed Servais then called for side-arming reliever Evan DeCaster, who gave up a hit-and-run single to Lauricella and a RBI single to Matt Harris.
"What really hurt was walking that leadoff batter," Servais said. "Connor had been successful in holding them down for several innings, but he was starting to leave some balls up.
"I had Evan out there in the bullpen, I had David (Gerber) out there, and I didn't want this thing to slip away without getting them into the game."
The Red Storm added to their lead in the eighth when Wayman launched a two-run, two-out double into right-center field. Creighton then again made things interesting before McCormick finished off the Bluejays' season.
"We knew that Creighton is a team that never quits," Lauricella said.
Creighton would have had to defeat St. John's twice Sunday to keep its season alive. Coming just short of forcing a second championship game stung.
"We don't start working out in September to finish runner-up," Servais said. "We fell short today. When we get together again in September, our goal will be to work to get closer to where we need to be.
"There were a couple of things we lacked this year, and we'll shore those up this summer."