UCF entered its weekend series against Tulane with the most potent offense in the American Athletic Conference, but the Green Wave relied on defense to take them down.
Tulane made highlight-reel plays on defense the entire night, which helped them squeeze out a 3-0 victory over UCF at Turchin Stadium on Friday night — their first Friday victory over an AAC opponent since joining the conference this season.
With the win, the Green Wave joined a group of seven teams that have compiled between four and six wins in AAC play. Tulane trails conference leader USF, which possesses a 7-2 record in the American.
The Knights (25-14, 4-6) entered Friday leading the nation in home runs (50) and ranking 11th in runs scored (275), but the Tulane defense — along with a solid outing from Friday starting pitcher Corey Merrill — held the explosive UCF offense scoreless for the first time this season.
The Knights had an opportunity to put their first run of the game on the board in the sixth inning, but Tulane stopped them in their tracks.
With a runner on first, UCF designated hitter Matt Diorio smashed a soaring double off the center-field wall that appeared to set the Knights up for their first run of the game, but Lex Kaplan slung the ball in to Tulane shortstop Stephen Alemais, who threw the runner out at home to preserve the shutout for the Green Wave (23-14, 4-6 American).
To go along with his defense, Alemais got the Green Wave offense going early Friday.
He smacked a single to center field on the first pitch of the bottom of the first, then advanced to third on an error and a groundout. Tulane outfielder John Gandolfo followed that up by bringing him home with an RBI groundout.
Hunter Williams followed the Green Wave’s first run of the game with a bloop single to left field, and after Tyler Wilson moved Williams into scoring position with a walk, Jake Rogers drove in another run with his RBI single, scoring Williams and giving the Green Wave a 2-0 advantage heading into the second inning.
Merrill struggled to keep UCF runners off the basepaths, but he came up with big outs for the Green Wave every time they were needed — including two bases-loaded jams in the second and fourth innings.
The sophomore pitched 5.2 innings, allowing five hits and no runs, as he pushed his record to 2-3 on the season. He also added six walks and six strikeouts.
Once Merrill was removed from the game, the Tulane bullpen took control of the game for the Green Wave. Patrick Duester came in after Merrill and pitched a scoreless 2.2 innings, before finally facing trouble in the ninth inning.
But with two runners on base and no outs, Tulane turned to Ian Gibaut, who got the final two outs for his second save of the season.
Cre Finrock (6-3) was given the loss for UCF, tossing seven innings, while allowing five hits and two runs. He also added three walks and eight strikeouts.