LOS ANGELES—Creighton went 22-28 in the regular season and struggled mightily to score runs for most of the season. San Diego won 40 games and fielded one of its best offensive teams in years.
But the Bluejays and Toreros were moving in opposite directions down the stretch. Creighton finally got its bats going during a surprising 4-0 run through the Missouri Valley Conference tournament and headed to regionals brimming with confidence. USD, meanwhile, struggled in all facets during the final month and lost the West Coast Conference title with a loss in the season finale at Pepperdine.
Each team continued its trend in Saturday's elimination game, as the Bluejays cruised to an 8-2 win, ending San Diego's season.
"I think teams go through different peaks and valleys during the season," said a thoughtful USD coach Rich Hill. "Towards the end of this deal, we just weren't at our best, weren't firing on all cylinders. We haven't really examined the rhyme or reason for that, we were just immersed in the moment, trying to get better each day . . .
"We really didn't play defense all year. Our starting pitching was solid but not spectacular, our bullpen was spectacular, and our offense was up and down. So I think we just willed ourselves to that 40-win plateau."
The USD offense produced just three runs total during its four losses over the last two weeks—two at Pepperdine and two in the Los Angeles Regional. On Saturday, finesse righthander Shane Liska baffled the Toreros for five innings with a fastball that topped out in the low 80s.
"(We were) swinging at bad pitches, weren't waiting for our pitch," said USD slugger Kris Bryant, who went 1-for-3. "But sometimes it goes that way. You can't go out there and mash every single game. Sometimes teams have slumps, and I think we went into one at the wrong time."
The Bluejays slumped for about three months straight, but suddenly their offense looks capable. They jumped on San Diego starter Paul Sewald early Saturday, chasing him in the second inning to build a 3-0 lead. Creighton broke the game open with three more in the fourth and two in the fifth. The 2-3-4 hitters—Nick Judkins, Chance Ross and Anthony Bemboom—led the charge, combining for seven hits and six RBIs.
"I think everybody's feeling pretty comfortable at the plate in these last couple of weeks," Bemboom said. "I think last week helped us out a lot, and to do that again today was a big boost for us."
Creighton coach Ed Servais promised reporters after Friday's loss to UCLA that his team would come back Saturday and play hard. He was right.
The Bluejays can really play defense, as ever, and they compete on the mound, though they aren't blessed with overpowering arms. Nobody will mistake the offense for the '27 Yankees (Creighton entered the tournament with a .248 batting average, worst in the field of 64), but the team's ugly offensive numbers aren't an accurate representation of what the lineup can do. Statistics compiled in March don't mean anything now.
"A lot of people think our hitters are playing a little above themselves," Servais said. "I don't believe that. I think this is what we're capable of doing, it just took us a while to get there. I think we were capable of doing this in April.
"We've got to continue to attack the ball. We had some two-out hits tonight. These are all things that were missing in April that we are doing."
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