Pair of Michigan pitchers combine to shut down Jays in regional opener

Pair of Michigan pitchers combine to shut down Jays in regional opener
Creighton starter Mitch Ragan walks back to the mound as Jimmy Kerr rounds third after hitting a home run. MARK YLEN/ALBANY DEMOCRAT-HERALD FOR THE WORLD-HERALD NEWS SERVICE

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Creighton has built a 38-win season by pushing runs across the plate.

That dynamic offense was missing in the NCAA baseball tournament on Friday as Michigan right-hander Karl Kauffmann and reliever Jack Weisenburger blanked the Bluejays on seven hits in the Wolverines’ 6-0 victory. The Bluejays had scored nine runs or more in all three of their Big East tournament games.

Creighton came into the tournament on an eight-game winning streak and had won 13 of its previous 14 games.

The Bluejays (38-12) will try to extend their season when they play at 3 p.m. Saturday against top-seeded Oregon State.

Kauffmann finished one out shy of a complete game. Jordan Hovey’s two-out single in the ninth ended Kauffmann’s outing at 123 pitches. He scattered six hits and struck out seven, leaving it to Weisenburger to complete the shutout.

“He made good pitches when he needed to; he made good pitches when he got behind in the count,” Creighton coach Ed Servais said. “He got his secondary pitches over and pitched with good height, and we had a hard time elevating the baseball, so you have to give him a ton of credit.”

Michigan coach Erik Bakich was just as complimentary toward his junior right-hander.

“It was his best performance of the year when it meant the most,” Bakich said. “He was absolutely brilliant tonight, terrific attacking the strike zone, holding a good offensive team down.”

Michigan launched three towering home runs off Mitch Ragan (8-3). Ragan worked six innings, giving up five earned runs on six hits. The senior struck out five and walked two, but was frustrated by his inability to locate his fastball.

It wasn’t an ideal start to the regional for Ragan, who walked Jordan Nwogu on five pitches. However, a popup to shortstop Jack Strunc and a 6-4-3 double play put Ragan back in the dugout.

But he hung one of his fastballs in the strike zone, and it cost the Bluejays in the second inning. Michigan’s Christan Bullock deposited only his second homer of the season over the right-field fence with Miles Lewis on base, giving the Wolverines a 2-0 lead.

“They were sitting on fastballs, to be honest,” Ragan said. “They knew what was coming. I’m frustrated, but they are good hitters.”

Big East player of the year Jake Holton’s inning-starting single to left didn’t take Kauffmann out of his rhythm in the fourth, and it wasn’t a sign that Creighton’s offense was coming to life. A lineout, fielder’s choice and popup ended the tepid threat.

Holton, who collected one of six hits off Kauffmann, called the Michigan starter “wildly aggressive.”

The snuffed threat became a theme for the Bluejays. Creighton put a runner on base in each of the first six innings but couldn’t come up with a key hit to extend the rally.

“That was very unusual for us as well,” said Servais, noting that his club has been efficient at taking advantage of its scoring chances throughout the season. “But sometimes good pitching can neutralize good hitting.”

Creighton fell behind 3-0 on Jack Blomgren’s sacrifice fly in the third. The Wolverines added solo home runs by Nwogu in the fourth and Jimmy Kerr in the fifth to build a 5-0 cushion, forcing Servais to set up his pitching staff for the rest of the tournament.

“We thought they would put a little more pressure on us in the running game, but they didn’t have to,” Servais said. “Mitch just had trouble getting the ball down and their guy didn’t.”

Servais called on three relievers for an inning each to preserve some arms after pulling Ragan after six innings.

Will Hanafan led Creighton with a single and a walk.

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