An anticipated duel between two of the best pitchers in the American Athletic Conference turned into a dud for both of them.
So did the result for Tulane.
In a matchup of the teams picked 1-2 in the preseason AAC baseball poll, Houston took advantage of a leadoff walk, two bloop singles, a pair of wild pitches and an infield single on its way to four runs in the top of the ninth inning, beating Tulane 10-6 on Friday night at Turchin Stadium.
By that point, normally dominant starters Emerson Gibbs for Tulane and Andrew Lantrip for Houston were out of the picture.
“You score six runs and have 10 hits on a Friday night, and you give yourself a chance to win,” Tulane coach David Pierce said. “We have to do a little better job when we come out of the bullpen.”
Houston (24-16, 6-7), the defending conference champion and preseason favorite, finally had some breaks go its way after entering in a tie for second-to-last.
Tulane (27-14, 7-5), which lost for the first time in six games after outscoring its previous five opponents 30-5, fell 1½ games behind league leader Cincinnati, which beat East Carolina 3-0 earlier Friday.
The bloops were killers on a night when both teams had some bloopers that did not involve pop-ups.
The first one landed in between second baseman Jake Willsey and right fielder Lex Kaplan, chasing reliever Patrick Duester (0-1). The next one, off Trevor Simms, was just out of reach of third baseman Hunter Hope, who had to run a long way from his position in a drawn-in infield.
Left fielder Grant Witherspoon still could have nailed Houston pinch runner Zac Taylor at the plate after the ball dropped, but his throw was slightly off target.
“Bloop hits are tough,” Hope said. “We were ready to play. We just made a bunch of mistakes. It’s a new day tomorrow, and we’ll be ready to play by 4 o’clock.”
The Cougars added another run on an infield single and put the game away with their only hard-hit ball of the inning — a two-RBI double by Connor Hollis.
Nothing went as anticipated on an unusual Friday night as Tulane surrendered its highest run total at home this season.
Gibbs and Lantrip both gave up six runs, leaving an inning apart after one of their worst outings of the year. Gibbs — whose earned run average in four AAC games was 0.30 — tied his season-worst total set Feb. 28 against Nebraska and finally was lifted in the seventh.
With Tulane in the midst of final exams, he was nowhere near as sharp as in any of his other appearances at Turchin Stadium.
“I’m not going to make any excuses for him, but these exams are wearing on him,” Pierce said. “He’s a kid that’s totally committed in being a student-athlete. I noticed him being mentally and physically drained yesterday.”
Lantrip, who entered with a 1.82 ERA for the year, doubled his previous high before departing in the sixth. “He had given up four home runs coming in, and we hit two,” Pierce said. “We beat him up pretty good.”
Gibbs struggled from the start and did not get any help from his defense in the first inning.
After Houston’s Connor Wang led off with a hard single, catcher Jake Rogers committed only his second error of the year when he pulled first baseman Hunter Williams off the bag on a bunt attempt. Wang looked like he would be out trying to advance on a deep fly-out to left field one batter later, but shortstop Stephen Alemais’ relay was wide of Hope.
Gibbs then allowed two more hard singles as Houston went ahead 2-0.
“I had my curve ball earlier, but I wasn’t locating my stuff,” he said. “Everything was belt high right off the bat. I just had to battle. Houston’s never an easy team. They are going to come in here wanting to beat us. We’re rivals.”
Lantrip pitched three scoreless innings but gave up four hits in that span. He was not as fortunate in the fourth when Hope homered to left with two outs and Williams followed with a mammoth 430-foot blast that cleared the screen behind the wall in straight centerfield.
The back-to-back jacks gave Tulane 42 home runs for the year, a remarkable 31 more than Wave pitchers had allowed.
That disparity was reduced by one in the fifth when Houston’s Joe Davis unloaded on a pitch from Gibbs, sending a two-run homer over the wall in left in about two seconds.
Lantrip and Houston nearly imploded in the sixth. Already irritated by a balk call that did not cost him in the fifth, he plunked Hope and Williams to start the inning in a rare loss of control for a guy who led the nation with four walks in 74 innings.
Lantrip then fielded a bunt by Willsey and wanted to cut down Hope, but no one covered third, forcing him to throw to first. Richard Carthon, starting for the first time in eight games, hit an RBI grounder and Alemais singled to tie the score.
The Cougars appeared ready to get out without further damage when Jake Rogers skied an infield pop, but no one made a play on the ball as it landed just to the left of the pitcher’s mound, allowing Alemais to reach third.
After a pitching change, Alemais scored without a throw on a double steal. That was the last time Tulane threatened. Houston relievers John King (4-3) and Nick Hernandez allowed zero hits over the final 3 1/3 innings.
Tulane’s 6-4 lead did not hold up. Gibbs gave up three singles in the seventh — the last two with two outs — as Houston tied the score at 6 and chased him. The Wave also committed its third error when Kaplan’s attempt to back pick a Houston runner at second hit the base and ricocheted into center field.
“It’s real frustrating,” Gibbs said. “The baseball gods were doing something to us tonight. The ball falls here, the ball falls there, random bounces. That’s baseball. That’s how it works, and we just have to bounce back. Tomorrow we could come out and get three hits and score seven runs.”