NEW ORLEANS — Emotions certainly were running high throughout this weekend’s Conference USA series between Tulane and Houston.
But after Sunday’s game, the Green Wave was feeling pretty low.
Behind a strong pitching performance by David Napoli and some stellar defensive plays by third baseman Garrett Cannizaro, Tulane took a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning. But the Green Wave was left heart-broken after seeing it — and the series — slip away to the Cougars.
Napoli had given up only two hits through eight innings, and coach Rick Jones was willing to let him finish. But after giving up a lead-off single to Houston’s Jonathan Davis, Napoli was pulled in favor of left-hander Brady Wilson. Wilson fielded a sacrifice bunt by Justin Montemayor, which moved Davis to second, but after he walked Michael Pyeatt, he was relieved in favor of fellow lefty Ian Gibaut. Caleb Barker then sent a sharply hit ball to the left side, which bounced off the glove of Cannizaro to score Davis and tie the game at 2-2. Jacob Campbell then put down a safety squeeze bunt that Gibaut fielded and tossed to catcher Cameron Burns, but Pyeatt slid under the tag for the go-ahead run.
Tulane couldn’t rally.
Bowen Woodson led off the bottom of the ninth with a single to right and went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Burns, but was left stranded when Tim Yandel and Nick DiMaggio both flied out to left.
“Obviously, it was a very disappointing loss today,” Jones said. “I have no issue with our at-bats. We out-hit them, played well defensively. David Napoli gave us a great effort. When you lose 4-3 (on Friday) and 3-2, and you lose the series after a big win yesterday, today was tough.”
Napoli said it was especially tough to lose this one. Tensions ran high between the two teams all weekend. Friday night’s game was marred by a brawl and saw one Houston player get ejected for taunting. There was more jawing between the teams Saturday. After Napoli hit three batters Sunday, the chatter started up again.
“I thought I threw pretty well,” Napoli said. “I didn’t have my curve ball, but I battled. It was just a frustrating loss. We out-hit them. Any time you out-hit them, you feel like you out-pitched them, and we played sound defensively. So we did everything to beat them. Let’s just say we don’t have the best feelings toward that team. I think we wanted this one more than we ever wanted another game. It’s just very frustrating. But we have to just put this behind us.”
Houston had taken an early lead when Montemayor led off the second inning with a single to left. He moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Pyeatt, then scored when Caleb Barker hit a double into the right-center-field gap. Those were the only two hits the Cougar got off Napoli, who struck out three and walked two.
Tulane tied the game in the fourth when Sean Potkay singled, Andrew Garner doubled, and Brennan Middleton hit a sacrifice fly to left.
The Green Wave took the lead in the seventh when Garner hit a lead-off double and Middleton beat out a sacrifice bunt. With one out, Burns put down a safety squeeze that Houston’s catcher fielded and threw back to pitcher Aaron Garza. Garner slid home safely. But the Green Wave could get no insurance. After a Houston pitching change, Yandel singled to load the bases. DiMaggio then grounded out to the pitcher, and Cannizaro lined out to third to end the threat.
Former Tulane catcher Eric Lane, the son of Baton Rouge businessman Gerry Lane, who died Friday at the age of 82, threw out the first pitch at Sunday’s game. Eric Lane, a member of the Tulane Hall of Fame, hit three home runs against Florida State in 1982 and was the MVP of the Metro Tournament that year.