A bullpen breakdown prevented the Tulane baseball team from completing a sweep of Illinois to start the season, and coach David Pierce said Sunday’s loss understandably skewed the perspective.
He is happy his Green Wave (2-1) won two of three from the defending Big Ten champion and 2015 super regional participant. But he hates that his team failed to close the deal, falling 5-2 in the finale after leading 2-0 entering the eighth inning.
“When you win the first two and then you lose the third one late, you’re disappointed,” he said. “But if you win Friday, let Saturday slip away and then come back and win Sunday, you feel pretty good about it. The mentality is different because of the way it happened.”
Finding quality relief pitching is Tulane’s primary early-season concern, but the Wave may not learn much against Alabama A&M (1-3) at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Turchin Stadium. The Bulldogs, who lost three of four to IPFW, are picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. None of their players was a preseason first- or second-team all-conference selection.
Tulane will use senior Patrick Duester, who excelled as a midweek starter a year ago, in the same role. After he exits, it’s anybody’s guess.
Duester was one of six pitchers who struggled out of the bullpen against Illinois. He gave up a tying double with two outs in the ninth to the first batter he faced Friday, then walked five in two-thirds of an inning before being pulled for Trevor Simms with the bases load in the 10th.
Simms gave up a double and two singles to the only batters he faced as Tulane fell behind 5-2 before rallying to win 6-5 with four runs in the bottom half. The deficit would have been even larger if left fielder Richard Carthon had not thrown out a runner at the plate to end the threat, matching his assist total from all of 2015.
On Sunday, Ross Massey walked his lone batter. Tim Yandel allowed three hits and three runs in two-thirds of an inning. Dan Rankin uncorked a wild pitch and allowed a go-ahead two-run single. Sam Bjorngjeld yielded two hits and threw a wild pitch.
The only effective relievers were J.P. France, who induced a double-play grounder Sunday and pitched two solid innings Friday before getting into trouble in the ninth, and Christian Colletti, who pitched two scoreless inning Saturday to earn a save.
“We are going to approach the (Alabama A&M) game to do everything we can to win the game, but with that being said, we would like to see some people,” Pierce said. “We want to continue to evolve the bullpen. We’ve got to get the right people in there.”
Experienced starters Corey Merrill, Alex Massey and Emerson Gibbs did not allow a run over the weekend, combining to pitch 19.1 innings while giving up 10 hits and striking out 21. With the departure of closer Ian Gibaut, the bullpen clearly is a work in progress.
“That’s our biggest question mark, because there are so many unknowns,” Pierce said. “It’s not like we returned so many relievers.”
This is the first meeting between the teams. … Tulane dropped one spot to No. 20 in the Collegiate Baseball poll. … The Wave’s batting average through one series is .255, almost identical to the .253 it produced in 2015. … Tulane committed one error against Illinois after making 68 in 60 games a year ago.