With the tying run standing on third base and Nebraska’s best hitter stepping to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning, Creighton’s coach trotted to the mound for a quick pep talk with his closer.
Ed Servais had a simple question for junior Bobby Kametas — the Division II transfer who’s been CU’s most reliable bullpen arm largely because, he insists, he’s too busy enjoying a chance he never thought he’d get to consider the pressure of these late-game moments.
What’s your best pitch?
Servais asked knowing the answer. The slider. And even on an off night like Tuesday, the Jays’ unflappable right-hander was certain of that, too. So Servais’ advice to Kametas was simple: Go with the deceptive breaking ball.
Kametas did exactly that. He struck out senior Scott Schreiber with three straight sliders and got junior Jesse Wilkening to fly out to left field to preserve a 5-4 Creighton win, clinching CU’s first ever season series sweep over its in-state rival.
“I wasn’t going to give him anything that he could put in play,” Kametas said. “Those were my three best pitches (Wednesday), that’s for sure.”
He and his teammates celebrated accordingly afterward. Catcher Michael Emodi lifted Kametas off the ground. Kametas is certain that one of his exuberant buddies was punching him as they mobbed one another on the infield.
The Jays (27-15) hadn’t even won a season series against NU since 2010. They’d never gone 3-0 — until this season.
“This year, for whatever reason, they brought out the best in us,” Servais said of the Huskers. “I don’t know what it was. We played three of our better games against them.”
The Jays won 3-1 in March. They held on late in a wild 12-9 victory in Lincoln last month. Then came Tuesday, which had the kinds of momentum swings that are often commonplace when these teams meet.
Junior Ryan Mantle broke a 2-2 tie with a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded in the eighth inning. After a balk moved two runners into scoring position, freshman Jason Allbery lined a two-RBI single into center field to make it 5-2.
Nebraska answered right back.
The Huskers (22-24), designated as the home team Tuesday for what was labeled a neutral-site affair, put two base runners on to open their half of the eighth inning. Wilkening ripped a double down the third-base line to pull NU within 5-3. Freshman Gunner Hellstrom’s sacrifice fly trimmed CU’s lead to 5-4.
But Kametas entered and wiggled out of the jam, stranding the potential tying run on second base. In the ninth, he walked the leadoff man and gave up a one-out single — but he retired Schreiber and Wilkening to earn his team-leading fifth save.
“It was a typical game we play here,” NU coach Darin Erstad said. “Whoever gets the big hits, that’s usually who wins those games. This particular year they got the big hits.”
Credit Kametas for keeping the Husker bats in check during the most critical time.
Kametas wasn’t even pitching two months ago after being diagnosed with mononucleosis. Injuries derailed the latter portion of his career at St. Joseph’s College in Indiana — and that school shut down its baseball program at the end of last year. Kametas wasn’t sure where he’d end up until the Jays happened to see him throw.
Yet less than a year later, he found himself soaking in the scene while loosening up inside the TD Ameritrade Park bullpen in the seventh inning. There were 9,137 fans on hand — the largest crowd for a CU-NU game in three years. Both teams, clinging to fading postseason hopes, were in desperate need of a confidence-boosting win.
And Kametas was the guy who helped Creighton get it done. He was grateful for the chance.
“This experience is great,” he said. “I have to thank the coaching staff for giving me the opportunity to play baseball again. To be in that situation, I wasn’t going to take it for granted. I just had fun.”
Jays’ Denson Hull rebounds from rough start; NU freshman turns corner
Tuesday’s start didn’t exactly begin the way junior pitcher Denson Hall would have liked.
His warmup pitches were off. A couple bounced up there. His first three offerings to leadoff hitter Scott Schreiber missed wildly. The first two balls put in play were smoked off the bats of Schreiber and junior Jesse Wilkening.
Sophomore Luke Roskam came around to score after leading off the second with a well-hit double into the right-field gap.
But then things clicked for Hull.
After surrendering a game-tying RBI single in the second inning, Hull retired the next 11 batters he faced. He had five strikeouts, and he caught Husker hitters looking on four of them as he attacked the inside part of the plate with his fastball.
Hull did leave the game in the sixth after NU tied it at 2-2 — but his effort set the stage for Creighton’s late-inning heroics in a 5-4 victory, according to coach Ed Servais.
“We don’t have a chance in the seventh, eighth and ninth inning unless he gets through the fifth,” Servais said.
Hull tossed 4⅓ innings of one-run ball against Evansville back in March, but he hadn’t thrown more than two frames in any other appearance. But the left-hander limited NU to three hits and two runs over a career-best 5⅔ innings Tuesday.
NU freshman turns corner
Freshman pitcher Andrew Abrahamowicz still doesn’t have the same fastball velocity he’s used to. And his breaking ball needs work.
But the NU coaches think the right-hander has plenty of potential — and they hope Tuesday’s outing is a sign that he’s turning the corner.
Abrahamowicz pitched 2⅓ scoreless innings against Creighton, keeping the Huskers close during the middle innings. The only CU base runner he allowed came on an eight-pitch walk. He struck out four.
It was far different from his last appearance — against Nevada on April 28 — when he surrendered four runs (two earned) and never recorded an out.
“He was starting to tease you a little bit that he was coming and then he had a really bad outing,” Erstad said. “But we’re going to keep throwing him out there. Because he can pitch.”
Key play in left field
Reserve left fielder Nick Ortega made a critical play in left field in the eighth inning, a moment that Servais did not undervalue after the game.
Ortega, who hasn’t played since April 20, entered in the bottom of the eighth Tuesday. Four batters into the inning, he instinctively read a hard-hit fly ball off the bat and made a lunging catch near the warning track. A run did score on the sacrifice fly to make it 5-4, but Ortega recorded the inning’s first out.
The Huskers didn’t score again from there.
“That’s a game-saver right there,” Servais said. “He deserves a ton of credit for coming off the bench coach, not having played in a long, long time. In my opinion, he won the game for us.”
Jays, Huskers fighting to qualify for postseason
Creighton will start freshman Ian Evans against UNO Wednesday. The game is set for 7:05 p.m. at Werner Park.
Servais said since sophomore reliever Mitch Boyer and sophomore John Sakowski did not throw Tuesday, they’d be available Wednesday as well. Junior Michael Emodi will likely slot in the lineup as a designated hitter.
Nebraska, meanwhile, does not play again until Friday when it opens a three-game series against seventh-place Indiana. The Huskers still sit outside the league’s top eight and are in danger of missing out on the conference tournament for the first time since joining the Big Ten.
The Jays likely need a sweep this weekend against last-place Villanova to have a chance at qualifying for the four-team Big East tournament.