What started off as a dream on paper came to fruition Friday afternoon, as the Mavericks opened up their new crown jewel with Tal Anderson Field. However, it was their cross-town rival that decided to crash the party, as the Creighton Bluejays took game one of the three-game series, 10-3.
“Baseball is such a momentum game,” said Omaha head coach Evan Porter. “There were three or four times that we didn’t make a play or capitalize on an opportunity that allowed them to grab the momentum. That hurt us today and you can’t do that against a team like Creighton. They’re going to make you pay for it.”
Beyond the game itself, Friday was a monumental day for the Omaha baseball program. It was the first time since 1964 that the Mavericks have played a game on an on-campus field, as they opened the baseball side of the brand new $23.5 million complex. It’ll be a game-changer for both the program and the Omaha community.
Fittingly enough, Omaha native and senior pitcher Joey Machado fired the first pitch in the ballpark’s history across the plate for a strike. A Creighton Prep graduate, Machado has bounced around town and used multiple different fields over his time with the program.
Machado said it was special to finally see the Omaha logo and have a field he and the program can call their own. He’ll also forever have his name attached to the stadium’s history as the first Maverick to ever toe the rubber.
“It was awesome,” he said. “That was the most nerve-racking first pitch I’ve ever had to throw in my life and I gave a big fist pump right after it. It’s a memory that I’ll be able to hold to myself and be able to tell family down the road one day.”
The senior got some early run support as the Mavericks put two across the plate in the bottom of the first. After Harrison Denk walked to open the inning, Chris Esposito continued where he left off from last weekend with an RBI triple. The junior was 1-for-4 in this one.
However, that was the only lead the Mavericks would have throughout the day. Two Bluejays scored on an error by shortstop Keil Krumwiede in the fourth inning to tie the game up, 2-2. That started a stretch of five consecutive innings that Creighton scored.
“Joey did great,” Porter said. “He was in that big jam in the fourth and had the bases loaded with nobody out. Strikes out the next two, but we can’t pick up a ground ball behind him. You could feel the game shift after that.”
That inning also ended the day for Machado, who threw 82 pitches across his four innings. The Omaha starter finished the day with four strikeouts and only allowed four hits. He also walked three.
Control was an issue all day for the Mavericks. The six Omaha pitchers combined for eight walks.
“It looked like a couple guys were pitching scared, and that’s not who we are or what we do,” Porter said. “I know there were a little bit of nerves going with it being the first time out here, so I think guys will settle in here and we’ll be okay.”
Machado was able to limit the damage in the fourth and only allowed two unearned runs. It was the third and final jam he was able to work himself out of.
“It’s always a confidence booster when you’re able to work out of jams,” Machado said. “It’s kind of the name of the game as a pitcher, and you’ve got to work around them. I’ve always told people as a starter you’ve just got to manage the game.”
The Mavericks ran into trouble once again in the fifth and Creighton took the lead for good. Mark Timmins walked the leadoff batter, Alan Roden, who advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. Jared Wegner, who led Creighton with three hits on the day, lined a single to left and brought Roden home for the 3-2 lead.
Timmins walked the next two batters and hit the third, before walking Parker Upton. The Upton walk brought home the fourth Creighton run, which ended up being the difference. Timmins was charged with the loss in Friday’s contest.
Omaha did answer in the bottom half though. Breyden Eckhout was hit by a pitch to start the inning and scored on a Mike Boeve double to left-center. Boeve’s RBI trimmed the deficit to 4-3, but that was the final run the Mavericks pushed across the plate on the day.
“We’re not trying to focus on results, we’re trying to get out here and play our brand of baseball,” Porter said. “We didn’t do that today, but tomorrow is a new chance to do that.”
The Bluejays went on to score six unanswered runs with one in the sixth, three in the seventh, and two in the eighth. Dax Roper added the final blow in the eighth inning with a no-doubt shot to left-center field. Roper’s home run was the first in Tal Anderson Field history.
As for the Omaha starter, he hopes to see his team rebound in game two. As one of the leaders of the pitching staff, the message is simple. Tomorrow is a new day.
“I was a little shaky,” Machado said. “I made pitches when I needed to, but not when I wanted to. Little easier said than done, but it was an okay outing and nothing great. I was able to keep us in the game and pass the baton off to the next guy.
“I think as a staff we haven’t really put a full game together yet, but it’s going to happen soon. We’ll shake it off and hopefully it will happen tomorrow.”
With the loss, Omaha now drops below .500 at 3-4, while the Bluejays find themselves at 3-2. It’s the same two teams tomorrow afternoon at Tal Anderson Field with another 3 p.m. first pitch. Game three will follow on Sunday at 1 p.m.