The Salukis jumped ahead early in the championship game of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament against Creighton, but the lead didn’t hold and the Salukis were denied their first bid to the NCAA tournament in 22 years.
Creighton won the MVC baseball championship Saturday 8-6 against the Salukis in Springfield, MO. SIU took a 4-0 lead by the middle of the third inning, but then watched the lead evaporate in the bottom of the seventh.
“We didn’t play poorly, that’s the thing. We played well, you just have to give credit to Creighton,” said SIU coach Ken Henderson. “We didn’t get it done in the bullpen; that’s the difference, their bullpen was better than ours. Their bullpen shut us down and we didn’t shut them down.”
Senior outfielder Jordan Sivertsen hit a solo home run to lead off the top of the second inning to break the scoreless tie. The home run was No. 13 for Sivertsen, which ties him with junior first baseman Chris Serritella for most home runs in the Valley.
Sivertsen added another RBI on a two-out infield single in the top of the third to make the score 2-0. After two more infield hits, senior catcher Brian Bajer drove in two runs on a double to make it a four-run lead.
Creighton starting pitcher Ty Blach eventually got the final out in the inning, but exited afterwards. He gave up four earned runs on seven hits.
SIU and Creighton traded single runs in the fourth inning, and after Bluejay reliever Chase Webb struck out the side in the top of the fifth, Creighton struck back in the bottom half of the inning. Forsythe, who was pitching on four days of rest, was knocked out of the ballgame after a leadoff walk followed by a single.
“We were trying to get as much as we could out of (Forsythe). We knew he wouldn’t be as sharp as he was, but neither was (Blach),” Henderson said. “You talk about two of the best pitchers in the league, and neither one of them was as sharp as they were earlier in the week.”
Both runners scored on subsequent plays and Forsythe was charged with four earned runs on seven hits. Creighton scored its first run of the inning when junior center-fielder Rennie Troggio lost sight of a fly ball off the bat of Bluejay catcher Anthony Bemboom, and the Bluejays scored the second run on a fielder’s choice to make the score 5-4.
Bajer led off the top of the sixth with a double, his second of the game. He advanced to third on a fly ball out, then scored on a single by freshman right fielder Tanner Renner to make the score 6-4.
Bajer went 8-for-17 in the tournament and his five doubles and 16 total bases were the most of any player in the tournament.
“Bajer had a pretty good year for us, especially the last month or so,” Henderson said. “He’s a senior playing in his last tournament, and you hope those guys rise to the occasion and step it up and he did.”
The score remained 6-4 until the bottom of the seventh when Creighton scored four runs to take an 8-6 lead. After the Bluejays tied the game on a sacrifice fly and a one-out single, they took the lead when freshman second baseman Jake Peter hit a two-out, two-RBI single to make the score 8-6.
After a scoreless eighth inning, Bluejay senior Kurt Spomer retired the side in order in the top of the ninth to seal the victory for Creighton, who also won last year’s MVC tournament.
Creighton was picked to finish second in the MVC preseason coaches’ poll, but they entered the tournament as the eighth and final seed after going 6-14 in Valley play this season. SIU, the No. 6 seed, and Creighton entered the championship game without a loss in the tournament.
“Nobody was surprised because we knew going in the parity of the league. That’s why we’re the fifth-best because we’re good from top to bottom,” Henderson said.
The Valley finished the season with the fifth-best Ratings Per Index (RPI) of NCAA Division I baseball programs, and the MVC sent three teams to the NCAA tournament. Creighton received the automatic bid as tournament champion while Indiana State and Missouri State earned at-large bids.
The Salukis didn’t make the tournament for the 22nd year. Henderson said he likes the way the team is shaping up for next year in terms of depth since only four players are graduating seniors.
Right-handed starter Cameron Maldonado is one of those seniors, and a shoulder injury suffered May 5 against Illinois State kept him out of the tournament. Pitching coach P.J. Finigan said the team would’ve loved to have him instead of Forysthe on short rest in the championship, but the contusion to Maldonado’s shoulder was bad enough to keep him out.
Two more players could leave early for the pros. Serritella, who was drafted in the round 31 in last year’s MLB draft, said he will definitely sign with a professional team if and when he gets drafted again, and Henderson said SIU has expected that for a while.
Henderson said he’d be shocked if junior left-hander Nathan Dorris, who was drafted out of high school, wasn’t drafted by a team despite his mid-season demotion to the mid-week starting role. Dorris said his decision to stay would depend on where he was drafted.