The Tulane baseball team has gone from from worst to first in the American Athletic Conference in 12 days.
Jake Willsey scored the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning, and relief ace Ian Gibaut struck out two batters in a row with the bases loaded in the eighth inning as the Green Wave rallied to beat Houston 3-1 on Friday night at Turchin Stadium in a game televised nationally by CBS Sports Network.
After losing 8-0 to Central Florida on April 18, Tulane was 4-7 in the AAC and tied with Cincinnati at the bottom of the league. Since then, the Wave (29-16, 9-7) has won five straight, pulling into a tie with Houston (30-16, 9-7) and three other teams after everything has broken right in the rest of the conference.
“This is awesome,” Gibaut said. “You always know you’re never out of things. This league is all bunched up right now. We’re looking to win every series from here on out.”
Co-leaders South Florida, East Carolina and Memphis all lost on Friday, and Tulane took advantage with some aggressive base running against Houston.
Willsey could have held at third base on a shallow fly from Jake Rogers for the second out in the seventh, but he tested right fielder Kyle Survance’s arm and won the battle, scoring easily when the off-target throw went too far up the first base line from home plate.
The Wave added an insurance run when Stephen Alemais scored from second base as Houston made two errors on the same ground ball, booting it and then failing to pick it up.
Willsey probably would have been out if Houston had executed properly, but third base coach Sean Allen did not wait around to hope for help from the next batter, telling him to go home.
“It would have been close with a good thrown, but aggression is very key,” Willsey said. “If you put the ball in play, good things will happen.”
The drama was not over there. Gibaut replaced starter Corey Merrill, who allowed four hits and one run over seven innings, and promptly loaded the bases with one out on a walk, a hit batsman and a single.
He pitched out of the trouble he created, though, striking out Corey Julks on a 2-2 pitch and getting Connor Wong to whiff, too.
Gibaut walked another batter and gave up another hit around two strikeouts in the ninth before Josh Vidales lined out to left fielder Richard Carthon to end the game, giving Gibaut his sixth save.
“He has so much stuff on the ball,” Tulane coach David Pierce said. “If he pounds the strike zone, then he’s going to be successful, and sometimes he’s successful when he doesn’t.”
The evening might have been easier for Tulane if it had taken advantage of a big opportunity in the first inning off Houston’s Andrew Lantrip.
John Gandolfo came to the plate with runners on first and second and no outs and popped up to Lantrip while trying to bunt them to second and third. The Wave went until the sixth inning before having as good an opportunity to score again on Lantrip, who struck out Hunter Williams and induced a weak grounder to first base from Lex Kaplan to end the threat.
After striking out 10 against Cincinnati two weeks ago and 13 against South Florida last Friday, Lantrip struck out seven in the first four innings, including all three batters he faced in the fourth.
Merrill (4-3), who won his third in a row, faced the minimum number of batters through three innings before giving up the lone run Houston managed in the fourth.
“Corey Merrill was the key,” Pierce said. “It wasn’t his prettiest night, but he got the job done.”