By Nate Tenopir, Jared Meyer, Sports Editor, Contributor
In the first round of what promises to be a budding cross-town rivalry, UNO took the first shot and defeated Creighton 3-2 before 4,224 at TD Ameritrade Park Tuesday evening. Playing in Omaha for just the second time all season, the Mavs rode strong pitching performances from starter Matt Tew and reliever Curtis Smith to get the win.
The only other time the Mavs had made an appearance in Omaha, the pitching staff couldn’t get anybody out and surrendered 19 runs to BYU. Thus, playing the defending Missouri Valley Conference Champions on their home field seemed like a pretty big hill to climb.
“We did not talk about winning one time today,” UNO head coach Bob Herold said. “We talked about preparation and ‘you guys go out and play as hard as you can, have as much fun as you can and be loose.'”
“Honestly, when you coach to the winning thing you automatically put pressure on guys that’s not there. The end result of guys preparing themselves well and playing hard…you get a lot of wins.”
But those wins weren’t expected to come at the expense of Creighton. UNO walking away from TD Ameritrade with a win Tuesday night might have announced the start of the rivalry sooner than expected.
“We’ll see in the future,” Maverick third baseman Alex Mortensen said about UNO’s win creating some bad blood. “Hopefully we’ll have a great rivalry with them. Hopefully we can keep this going in the next few years.”
But Herold, who’s been a part of both programs, tried to deflect some importance off of what it meant to beat the Bluejays.
“I think they’re all pretty special, but this kind of helped our guys a little bit,” Herold said. “We got a couple timely hits. When we get two-out hits for RBI’s…you’re tough to beat.”
But those two-out hits would have meant little were in not for the three-hit performances on the mound by Tew and Smith. In eight and two thirds combined, the two Maverick pitchers walked just two Creighton hitters while striking out eight.
In four of the first five innings, Tew set Creighton hitters down in order. The only blemish was a fourth-inning walk to Jake Peter.
“[It] feels great pitching in Omaha in front of the crowd,” Tew said. “All I had to do was throw strikes and get outs.”
Tew threw 48 of his 82 pitches for strikes and the defense behind him didn’t commit an error all game.
“It’s pretty important to get out and throw strikes early,” Tew said. “You want to get that zero up on the board to motivate your guys to hit at the plate.”
After allowing just the one base runner in the first five innings, Tew allowed a single and a walk to start the sixth. Both runners came around to score.
Bluejay hitter Chance Ross bunted the runners over then Brad McKeon scored pinch-runner Jordan Makovicka on a sacrifice fly to right field. The 1-0 lead prompted a mound visit from Herold and the Mav skipper went to his bullpen.
Tew left the game to an appreciative round of applause from the UNO fans after going five and two thirds with just the one hit, two walks and three strikeouts.
“He commands the strike zone, he holds runners and he fields his position,” Herold said about Tew. “He’s nails. This is why he’s our number one guy. If a guy gets a hit, the next guy [he thinks] so what.”
Senior Curtis Smith came into the game and allowed a hit to the first batter he faced.
The hit pushed the Creighton lead to 2-0, but Smith got the next Bluejay to ground out to second to end the inning.
In the top of the seventh, the Mavericks answered back when Junior Conner McCrite hit a two-out RBI double that brought home freshmen Alex Mortensen. Mortensen led off the inning with a single then moved to second on a wild pitch.
Andrew Reck then struck out and Scotty Donner grounded out to first, moving Mortensen to third. McCrite’s hit in the next at bat cut the Creighton lead in half, 2-1.
Senior Brady Hohl grounded out to short to start the top of the eighth, but then Colby McCord started the rally that produced the winning runs. McCord doubled down the right field line then Mark Waldron walked to give the Mavs two on with one out.
Second baseman Caleb Palensky was hit by a pitch and the bases were loaded for Mortensen.
Mortensen took a pitch up the middle scoring McCord and Waldron for the 3-2 UNO lead.
“I was trying to get a sac fly to get at least one run in,” Mortensen said. “[I was] looking for a fastball, enjoying the experience, it was a great game, fun time.”
Reck and Donner then both flied out to the outfield leaving McCord and Waldron stranded on base.
Smith shut down the Bluejays with a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the eighth, and ended his night with a fly out and a strikeout to start the ninth.
Junior Derek Landis came in to face Petr Zyma and set him down swinging to close the 3-2 victory.
“It’s an automatic rivalry,” Herold said. “The guys all know each other, it’s in Omaha, we’re three miles apart. You want those guys (Creighton) to do well but you want to pound them when it’s time to play them.”