HOUSTON — All season long, Tulane has relied on pitching and defense to win baseball games. On Friday night at Reckling Park, the Green Wave lost when their pitchers didn’t give their defense a chance.
Green Wave reliever Ian Gibaut walked three straight batters — two with the bases loaded — that proved to be the difference as the Owls took the second straight Conference USA baseball game over Tulane 6-3.
With the Green Wave clinging to a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, Tulane coach Rick Jones pulled tiring starting pitcher Alex Byo in favor of Gibaut, a Houston native and the Wave’s top reliever.
Gibaut was immediately greeted with a game-tying single by Rice’s Geoff Perrott, and Skyler Ewing quickly followed with a double to put runners on second and third.
After striking out the next batter, Gibaut walked the next three hitters, putting the Owls up 5-3.
“Ian Gibaut has been outstanding for us all year, but tonight, he had command issues that he hasn’t had before,” Jones said. “Sometimes when you bring a guy back to his hometown, he gets a little too much adrenaline going. I think that is what happened tonight.”
The big inning was more than enough offense for Rice starter Jordan Stephens, who pitched 6.2 innings, allowing just one earned run.
The Owls (20-9, 4-1) were led by Ewing and Michael Aquino, who each had three hits.
“We came out swinging tonight,” Ewing said. “It was great work all around, and we have a lot of momentum right now.”
Rice was also aided by a season-high seven walks from Tulane pitching.
“That’s something that will always cripple a team when you start walking people like that,” Rice coach Wayne Graham said. “It was fortunate for us, not so fortunate for them.”
Tulane (14-15, 2-3) was led by Brennan Middleton, who had four hits. Byo pitched 5.1 innings, allowing seven hits and three runs.
“It’s tough losing a game like this when we were really close the entire game,” Tulane catcher Blake Crohan said. “We just couldn’t get timely hits and get the job done. It’s frustrating, but we just need to find a way to win.”
The Green Wave had the early lead in the second inning. Andrew Garner singled, Richard Carthon reached on a two-base error and Tim Yandel followed with an RBI single. A Bowen Woodson RBI groundout put the Green Wave up 2-0.
The Owls got one run back in the fourth after Christian Stringer scored on an Aquino RBI single.
Rice then tied the game in the fifth on a couple of questionable defensive plays by the Green Wave.
Ewing singled on a line drive that hit Tulane third baseman Garrett Cannizaro’s glove and bounced down in front of him.
After a walk to Leon Byrd, Ford Stainback hit a ball deep into the hole that Middleton fielded. He had Ewing caught rounding third base. Middleton hesitated, however, and the throw home was wide.
Instead of the third out of the inning, the game was tied at 2.
“Brennan kept the ball in the infield but for whatever reason froze,” Jones said. “That gave them a big momentum boost.”
Sean Potkay did give Tulane the lead back with an RBI single in the sixth, scoring Blake Crohan.
Then came the troubling bottom of the sixth. Byo allowed a leadoff double to Aquino and a sacrifice bunt to get him to third.
Then came on Gibaut, who graduated high school just a few miles down the road at Lamar High School. After Gibaut surrendered the lead, Daniel Rankin came on to stop the bleeding.
Rice added a sixth run in the seventh inning on a Ewing RBI single.
Tulane loaded the bases in the ninth with two outs, but Owls closer Zech Lemond closed the door for his eighth save.
The series will conclude Saturday as Tulane sends senior left-hander David Napoli to the mound to face Rice right-hander John Simms.