Different venue, same result.
The Tulane fans in a record crowd of 5,215 at Turchin Stadium got exactly what they came to see and are starting to expect.
J.P. France cooled down the hot LSU bats as the Green Wave beat the Tigers 4-1 on Tuesday night, completing a home-and-home sweep of the Tigers for the first time since 2007 while extended its stretch without giving up a run to 20 innings. The Wave went an even more remarkable 45.1 innings in between allowing earned runs.
“If this doesn’t prove what kind of team we are, I don’t know what it’s going to take,” said Tulane second baseman Jake Willsey, who hit a home run in the sixth. “We beat them at their place handily, and they come here and we do the same thing. That should really send a message.”
LSU (27-14), which had averaged more than eight runs since its 7-1 loss to Tulane at Alex Box Stadium on March 29, did next to nothing against France, who blanked the Tigers for six innings in the first meeting. If anything, he was more dominant this time, striking out six, allowing only one runner past first base through seven innings and never going to a three-ball count on a batter until the seventh.
In Baton Rouge, he had only one strikeout and walked three.
“After the first inning, I just felt like I was on cruise control,” France said. It’s awesome whenever you can sweep LSU.”
Tulane (27-13) has won five in a row, outscoring its opponents 30-5 in that stretch. The Wave allowed two runs in two games against LSU, tying its all-time low in the series set in 1976.
“I feel so good about our team’s expectations now,” coach David Pierce said. “They are not afraid of anybody. They go to the ballpark expecting to win right now.”
France, a redshirt sophomore who underwent Tommy John surgery before the 2015 season, finally began struggling in the eighth after he surpassed his longest previous stint. LSU second baseman Cole Freeman thought he had hit a two-run homer down the left field line, but the home plate umpire ruled it foul.
“Because of the emotion and the adrenaline, I really think he (France) ran out of gas,” Pierce said. “He emptied his tank, and that’s what we asked him to do. He’s a competitor, and he believes in himself and his teammates.”
LSU coach Paul Mainieri came out to argue, prompting a discussion among the umpires before they confirmed the original call.
Freeman eventually drew a walk, and Tulane reliever Sam Bjorngjeld was called for a balk as LSU scored its lone run.
“The umpire said that he didn’t stop,” Pierce said. “There’s a lot of things that are really frustrating about that call.”
Bjorngjeld recovered to strike out Jake Fraley for the second out. Patrick Duester then replaced him and blew the ball past Jordan Romero, stranding runners on second and third.
Duester finished out the ninth, surviving a one-out walk and a 3-0 count to the next batter before earning his second save.
“I had a sense of confusion, but then I took a real deep breath and said, ‘all right, come on.’” he said. “I went to my slider because my fastball wasn’t there. Sometimes you have to go to your secondary pitch, and that’s what worked tonight.”
Tulane put up its first run in the second after Jeremy Montalbano worked hard to draw a leadoff walk from Doug Norman, fouling off several pitches. He went to third on Hunter Hope’s double down the left-field line and scored on Hunter Williams’ grounder to shortstop.
“It just helped everybody loosen up a little bit knowing we were going to put up a few runs,” Montalbano said. “When you’re pitching like J.P., you only need two runs. He pounds the zone, he’s got a good fastball, and his slider is electric. When he throws like that, not many people are going to hit him.”
The Wave added two more runs in the fifth. Jake Rogers, Grant Witherspoon and Montalbano had consecutive two-out hits, with Rogers scoring on Montalbano’s single. LSU’s Jesse Stallings, who replaced reliever Caleb Gilbert at that point, then fielded a soft grounder from Lex Kaplan and fired it past first baseman Greg Deichmann for an error that scored Witherspoon. Deichmann was charged with the error.
“I fielded it, I was kind of in the base path, it was there,” Stallings said. “But at the same time, Deichmann didn’t want to get hit. It happens. People make mistakes, nobody’s perfect. It’s going to happen every now and then. I could have made a better throw, but it’s just one of those bad luck things I guess.”
Willsey’s homer to left-center field off a Stallings fastball in the sixth padded the lead to 4-0. It was the 40th homer of the year for Tulane, which has surrendered only 11, and the 33rd LSU pitchers have allowed.
France (4-1), who also pitched six scoreless innings against Southern Miss last Tuesday, retired the first 10 batters before giving up a single to Fraley. It was a tough night for Fraley otherwise. With runners on first and third in the sixth, he grounded into an inning-ending double play. Tulane shortstop Stephen Alemais fielded it near second base, stepped on the bag and threw to first to end the threat.
“He threw the ball over the plate, and we couldn’t hit him,” Mainieri said. “It’s two games in a row we just couldn’t solve him. He threw strikes, threw his fastball and some curveballs for strikes, and we just couldn’t square them up.”
Norman (1-1) pitched 3.2 innings before leaving after a strikeout, almost matching the season high of four innings for any LSU midweek pitcher.
LSU, coming off a series loss to Mississippi State, will have little time to rebound from another frustrating defeat. The Tigers travel to Ole Miss for a three-game set that starts Thursday.
Tulane, a half-game out of first place in the American Athletic Conference, hosts Houston this weekend and will look to build on the energy from the record crowd.
“I knew we could get it here,” Pierce said. “When our players go out and play like this with confidence, it’s fun to watch them. We’re putting a good product on the field, we’re getting fans and we’re having good results. It’s exciting.”