It wasn’t perfect. But it was close.
Tulane’s baseball team was two outs from completing its first sweep in a calendar year. This time it was on the road at Pepperdine, a team fresh off a super regional appearance last June, and the Green Wave had worked its way to the brink of a signature opening weekend.
Then, in one pitch, Tulane’s potential sweep was dashed when closer Ian Gibaut surrendered a ninth-inning home run to pinch hitter Justin Qsar, to cap a stunning 2-1 loss to the Waves.
Yet coach David Pierce wanted to make sure the positives that emerged from his first series as Tulane’s coach weren’t overshadowed by Sunday’s dramatics.
“He just kept telling us to stay positive because he could tell we were all hurting pretty badly after that one,” sophomore outfielder Lex Kaplan said. “He made sure to talk about those first two games and how important it was to win the series and how the weekend needs to be taken as a whole. There were a few important lessons to come out of this weekend, and I think it’s going to make us better as a team.”
The Green Wave (2-1) featured an opening day lineup filled entirely with returning players from last year’s team, which finished as the 290th best offense in Division I. But rather than stepping into the batter’s box as a team full of struggling freshmen, Tulane is a rejuvenated and experienced offense.
The Green Wave’s newfound gumption was never more apparent than Saturday when it entered the eighth inning trailing 5-0 before. Tulane strung together four runs with two outs to pull within striking distance in the eighth, then it exploded again for five more runs in the ninth to seal a convincing 9-5 win out of nowhere.
Friday night’s 9-3 win over Pepperdine was also propelled by a big inning, namely a six-run sixth that featured five hits, including a home run by Hunter Hope. The series of crooked-numbers displayed a level of offensive firepower the Green Wave was devoid of in 2014.
“I was mostly impressed with just the way our kids played hard and fought the entire game for all three games,” Pierce said. “We were very positive entering the series, and we were able to have the big inning in Game 1, which really kind of set the tone for that game and the rest of the weekend.
“It gave our guys the thought that even though we were down 5-0 on Saturday, that we had the ability to get back into it quickly. It’s all about believing in it, and it was good to see the outlook they had on it. And we can built from there and move forward.”
Tulane junior Tim Yandel made the most of his first appearance as a starting pitcher since a one-game stint as a junior in high school.
After spending his first two seasons as an infielder, outfielder and reliever for the Green Wave, Yandel threw 6.1 no-hit innings Sunday, earning the American Athletic Conference’s Pitcher of the Week award.
“The coaches this year when I showed up said to make my goal to be the team’s ace, and that’s not something I had really thought of as a goal,” Yandel said. “But I started to work my way to higher pitch counts, and it kind of took off from there.”
Despite his lack of experience in a starting role, Pierce said he wasn’t surprised how well Yandel performed when given the ball Sunday.
“Any time a kid takes a no-hitter into the seventh, you’re very pleased, but I wouldn’t say I was surprised,” Pierce said. “He’s probably been our most consistent guy this entire spring. He earned the No. 3 role on Sunday for what he’s done. He was impressive, but that’s what we expected.”
Three Tulane sophomores collected five hits over the weekend, surpassing .400 batting averages.
Considering not a single Green Wave hitter batted better than .270 last year, it was a significant opening weekend for shortstop Stephen Alemais (.455), catcher Jake Rogers (.417) and Kaplan (.455), who started all three games.
“It just felt a lot better out there,” Kaplan said. “I really think we all just kind of fed off of each other, and that’s a great sign.”