The Wednesday night deluge predicted for New Orleans earlier in the week did not arrive by the time the Tulane and UNO baseball teams played at Maestri Field.
Instead, the two teams rained runs all over each other before the Privateers rallied for a dramatic 10-9 victory that kept their remarkable early-season momentum going.
Aaron Palmer singled in Jay Robinson with the tying run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning off of reliever Dan Rankin, and Ryan Calloway came around with the winning run when right fielder Lex Kaplan’s errant throw home sailed up the third-base line past catcher Jake Rogers.
UNO, which went 14-40 last year, improved to 11-2 under first-year coach Blake Dean. The Privateers trailed 6-0 and 7-1 early but had their way with the Green Wave’s struggling relievers, notching their most significant victory of the season.
“We conquered New Orleans tonight,” said Palmer, a transfer from Northwest Florida State Junior College. “As of today, we own New Orleans.”
Tulane (8-5) lost for the first time in five games. The Green Wave shut out the Privateers in both matchups last year, but coach David Pierce lamented the eight walks and two hit batters from his staff on Wednesday.
“Ten free passes — that was the issue right there.” he said. “We have to straighten out the bullpen. We’ve got to get some guys come in and pound the strike zone and attack. You score nine runs, you ought to win the game.”
UNO, which entered as the nation’s 10th-highest scoring team, had other ideas. The Privateers struggled early against Tulane starter J.P. France, who struck out eight in 3.2 innings, but they reached base 20 times in the last six innings.
“We can swing the bats,” Dean said. “There’s no doubt in my mind about that. These guys don’t quit. There’s no question these other teams are more talented than our guys, but our guys are starting to believe in themselves daily. It’s growing and becoming contagious.”
Tulane was one out away from winning after blowing its big lead but could not finish off the Privateers. A ground ball to shortstop Cade Edwards with one out turned into a force-out, but second baseman Shea Pierce did not have enough time to complete what would have been a game-ending double play against the speedy Robinson.
Calloway then beat out an infield single, setting up the wild ending.
When Kaplan’s throw bounced back to the screen, Dean had only one concern.
“I was hoping it didn’t hit one of our guys that were coming out of the dugout (in celebration),” he said. “That was my first thought. My second thought was wow, the ballgame’s over.”
Kaplan said he had no regrets about trying to throw out Robinson at the plate.
“It’s really frustrating, but that’s the game of baseball,” he said. “It’s going to happen. I’d rather it happen now than later in the season. We have to pitch better and play better defense. Pitching and defense wins games.”
Rankin (0-1) was the fourth of four relievers who combined to give up 10 hits and walk six while allowing nine runs. He started the ninth with a walk, a familiar pattern for the Wave.
“I didn’t give my team a chance to win in the ninth inning,” he said. “I got behind counts, which made me have to throw fast balls to the plate.”
Hunter Hope and Grant Brown blasted mammoth two-run home runs off of UNO starter Bryan Warzek early as Tulane went ahead 6-0, giving the Wave 13 long balls in 13 games. Hope’s blast cleared the scoreboard. Brown’s line shot to left got out in a hurry.
But the Wave bullpen, which has struggled all year, continued to have issues. Reliever Christian Colletti got out of bases-loaded jam in the fourth by coaxing a ground ball, but he ran into trouble an inning later with a walk, a balk and a run-scoring double by Dakota Dean.
Patrick Duester replaced Colletti and allowed four runs in 1.1 innings. Eric Steel followed and gave up two runs while recording two outs, including a go-ahead triple by Robinson in the seventh.
Tulane needed some help to regain the lead in the eighth after Kaplan’s RBI single. Dean dropped a routine popup at third base with two outs, putting Hope at third, and he scored on a wild pitch from UNO closer Daniel Martinez (1-0).
The Privateers had one final response.
“If our pitchers can keep the other team at bay, we’ll typically get the bats going,” Dean said. “We just have to do the other parts of the game the right way to keep us close.”