CLEARWATER, Fla. — Losses don’t come more emotional than this.
Tulane missed numerous opportunities to tie the score late against East Carolina on Thursday night in an American Athletic Conference tournament winner’s bracket matchup that featured a wild eighth inning in which two Green Wave players were thrown out at the plate and two more plus third base coach Sean Allen were thrown out of the game.
The upshot: after falling 3-1, third-seeded Tulane (34-22) will be without starting second baseman Jake Willsey, pinch runner Nico Symington and Allen when it plays Connecticut at 2 p.m. on Friday in an elimination contest that may have a huge bearing on the Wave’s NCAA regional hopes.
Second-seeded East Carolina (38-20) will await the winner on Saturday at noon.
The drama started when Symington tried to score from second on single up the middle from Garrett Deschamp off East Carolina closer Joe Ingle with one out. The throw from center fielder Garrett Brooks beat Symington to the plate, but the tag from catcher Max McDowell was high before home plate umpire Chris Ward called Symington out.
Symington leaped up and spiked his helmet in anger, getting ejected immediately.
“I was rounding first, but from what I saw, it looked like he got in there,” Deschamp said. “Nico’s probably our fastest guy on the team, so I didn’t think there was a doubt he got In there. I felt like we had opportunities all game and didn’t come through with the big hit until the eighth inning.”
The fireworks were far from over.
Ward ruled the next batter, Jake Willsey, did not check his swing on a first strike. Willsey walked away from the plate arguing the call, and Allen was tossed after running down the line in protest. Willsey then was ejected and got right in Ward’s face, screaming.
Hunter Hope, replacing Willsey, walked on four straight pitches before Jake Rogers lined a single to left field. Tulane coach David Pierce, who replaced Allen at third base, waved Deschamp in, and he was tagged out easily without getting close enough to slide.
“You have to (send him),” Pierce said. “With a closer in their with a .7 ERA and a good swing on the ball. Deschamp’s not the fastest guy, but it’s Rogers’ fault. He hit it too hard.”
By NCAA rule, Willsey, Symington and Allen will be suspended for the UConn game, and further punishment could come for Willsey if officials rule he made contact with Ward.
Pierce said Deschamp would move from first base to second, Tyler Wilson would shift to first base from third base and Hunter Hope would enter the lineup at third base for the UConn game.
Tulane had other chances to tie the score in the late innings. With runners on second and third and one out in the seventh, Ingle struck out Jackson Johnson looking on three straight pitches and blew a pitch past Lex Kaplan after replacing starter Evan Kruczynski.
Even before all the craziness in the eighth, Hunter Williams sent a curving shot down the right field line that would have scored Symington from first easily if it had landed fair. It went a few feet foul.
“We pressed a little bit with guys in scoring position,” Pierce said. “That was the key to the game, but I like the way we fought.”
The Green Wave and Pirates were considered likely NCAA regional participants entering the tournament, but neither felt secure. The Wave would feel a heck of a lot better about its chances with a second victory against UConn after beating the Huskies in their tournament opener on Wednesday.
Alex Massey (6-3, 3.39 ERA), who had a complete-game seven-inning victory against Memphis last Saturday, will start for Tulane.
East Carolina scored the winning run in the fifth inning after Wilson threw a ball into the stands for an error that put a leadoff runner on second base.
Tulane starter Corey Merrill (4-6) took the loss.