Jays starter Preston Church shuts down Husker bats, helps Creighton defeat Nebraska

Jays starter Preston Church shuts down Husker bats, helps Creighton defeat Nebraska
Creighton's Isaac Collins scores on a double by Will Robertson. (World-Herald News Service)

Creighton graduate transfer Preston Church could tell in warmups. He had his fastball working.

Finally.

The pitch that had frustrated the veteran left-hander in his first six appearances with his new team served as the cornerstone in his midweek masterpiece at TD Ameritrade Park. Church tossed 6⅔ scoreless innings and subdued a reeling Nebraska offense in a 3-1 CU victory before 3,323.

It was the longest outing for a Bluejay pitcher against the Huskers since 2002 and certainly the best performance of the year for Church, who had walked 13 batters in 10⅓ innings entering Tuesday.

“Previously I haven’t really had good fastball command, and that’s pretty much what I base my pitching off of,” Church said. “Just making sure I can spot up my fastball. (Tuesday) I had it. Everything just worked off of that.”

Church didn’t face a three-ball count until the sixth inning. He threw 71 percent of his pitches for strikes, regularly finding himself with a strategic advantage. He didn’t walk anyone.

The Huskers (13-12) couldn’t break his rhythm.

Finding a way to make opposing pitchers uncomfortable, even when they’re relentlessly attacking the zone, has been an issue lately according to coach Darin Erstad. NU’s lost three of its past four games, and it has scored just two total runs in those defeats.

Erstad said some Huskers may be thinking too much about getting themselves out of this funk. Trying too hard, he said. Some are simply slumping.

Nebraska missed out on its best chances at the plate Tuesday.

NU began the game with back-to-back singles in the first inning, but the next three hitters all popped out. Senior Scott Schreiber was responsible for the first out in the fourth when he got tagged heading into third base when attempting to advance from first on junior Jesse Wilkening’s blooper to left.

The Huskers were 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position until sophomore Luke Roskam’s two-out single in the ninth scored Schreiber. That snapped a 20-inning scoring drought.

“We’re having a really hard time hitting the ball now,” Erstad said.

Creighton, on the other hand, got the hits it needed Tuesday.

The Jays (13-6), who have won eight of their last 10, took a 1-0 lead on sophomore Will Robertson’s two-out double down the right-field line in the first inning. They added two key insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth when junior Thomas Luevano knocked a bases-loaded single into left field.

Those were important moments, coach Ed Servais said.

But in his mind, the story was what occurred in the other half innings: when Church was dealing and CU’s error-free fielders were backing him up.

“(Tuesday) was about as close to a perfect game from Creighton defensively and pitching as you can have,” Servais said.

That doesn’t happen without Church, who began the year in the weekend rotation before disastrous starts in his first two games. He didn’t make it out of the second inning in one. He didn’t record an out in the other.

But he knew he had more to show for this team. He hopes Tuesday’s four-hit, three-strikeout performance is just the start.

“This is only the first one,” Church said. “I’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

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