CLEARWATER, Fla. — Although it was still uncertain whether the Tulane locked up an NCAA regional bid by beating Connecticut in its American Athletic Conference tournament opener, one thing had become crystal clear.
The Green Wave (34-21) was playing its best baseball of the season entering Thursday night’s winners bracket game against East Carolina that was not over by press time.
The offense, anemic through February, March and April, came alive in Tulane’s past three games. The Wave had 10 hits against UConn and ripped Memphis for 27 hits and 14 runs in a regular season-ending doubleheader sweep Saturday. That total includes five doubles and three home runs after Tulane hit four homers in its first 22 conference games.
“We’ve settled into a lineup,” coach David Pierce said.
Look no further than senior first baseman Garrett Deschamp for evidence of the dramatic change. Batting .192 entering that Memphis doubleheader, he raised his average 32 points to .224 with seven hits in his last nine at-bats.
Closer Ian Gibaut, who struggled in the first half of the season, has returned to his form from last year, when he had 12 saves. He has a scoreless streak of 13 innings covering eight appearances.
“I feel great out there right now,” he said. “I feel really comfortable. I feel everything is smooth. I just made some minor adjustments in the middle of the season, and it’s been fun. It’s been good.”
Gibaut finished off UConn by allowing only one base runner in two innings.
“He came in and did what he’s supposed to do,” said sophomore Lex Kaplan, who hit two home runs against the Huskies. “When he comes in I’m thinking there’s going to be a win, and we need him to keep throwing like he’s throwing.”
Tulane’s fielding, good all year, has become even better recently. The Green Wave committed only one error in three games against Memphis — from pitcher Corey Merrill — and made several outstanding plays against UConn.
After the Huskies tied the score at 1-1 in the second inning, third baseman Tyler Wilson dove to his left to snag a line drive, saving possibly two runs while leaving the bases loaded.
Shortstop Stephen Alemais, who had not committed an error in 15 consecutive games, started a smooth double play in the seventh inning. He also fielded four grounders in the eighth and ninth, including one where he ranged far to his right and threw across his body to nip a runner at first.
Catcher Jake Rogers, who has thrown out 32 of 56 base stealers, nailed a UConn runner at second base and picked off another one at first.
“We’re making pitches and making plays,” Pierce said. “We’re playing a clean game.”
Patrick Duester, who pitched a season-long seven innings to earn the victory against UConn, enjoyed his first game back in his home state.
Duester, a native of Titusville, Florida, about 150 miles from Clearwater, played for two years at St. John’s River State Community College in Florida before transferring to Tulane this year.
“I was ready to go,” he said. “I was excited being back down in Florida. The last time I pitched here was in junior college at the state tournament, and I didn’t do very well. It gave me a little chip on my shoulder.”
Duester said his sister, a cousin, an uncle, his grandparents and several friends were in attendance to watch him hold the Huskies to one run. It was only his second start against an AAC opponent.
“Coach told me three or four days ago I could be going Wednesday,” he said. “I just prepared like I do for every game.”