Thrust into the spotlight unexpectedly, freshman catcher Paul Gozzo is giving everything he has to help the Tulane baseball team dig itself out of an early season hole.
His game-winning single Sunday against Columbia was the latest example of a player making the best of a bad situation.
When senior catcher and team leader Jeremy Montalbano went down with a broken ankle on March 5, Gozzo was dealing with his own setback. Right before the season opener, he re-aggravated a labrum injury from his senior year in high school that kept him from throwing in fall practice.
Suddenly, he had the option of coming back sooner than expected or forcing Tulane to use infielder Jonathon Artigues behind the plate until he returned.
Gozzo chose to play, and after a rough debut weekend against San Diego, the Green Wave (6-13) has won three of its past four entering a five-game stretch in six days that starts Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. at Turchin Stadium against McNeese State (15-5).
“The team mentality is to keep getting through the tough times,” he said. “We’re starting to play a lot better, swinging a lot better and our pitching’s coming through, too.”
Without Gozzo, the Wave’s predicament might be even worse. Although he still is not 100-percent healthy, he has thrown out 4-of-9 base stealers in seven starts, preventing opponents from running wild.
“I’m starting to feel stronger and stronger each day,” he said. “On a lot of the action, I feel good. It’s just how durable it is toward the third game of a series, but I’m getting a lot more confident with it. I’m going to continue to play hard and get after it.”
He also has been a pleasant surprise offensively, hitting .381, easily the highest average on the team for anyone with 25 or more plate appearances. His strikeout-to-at-bat ratio of 4 to 21 is second best among the current starters behind twin brother Sal Gozzo.
That’s a big deal to coach Travis Jewett, who inherited a strikeout-laden team and is preaching line drives rather than lazy fly balls.
“When he’s willing to breathe and relax and use the middle of the field and keep the ball on a line, he’s having his success,” Jewett said. “When he’s early and cheating, that’s when he’s squibbing balls off and flaring balls up in the outfield.”
Gozzo played down his accomplishments with the bat, but after four empty plate appearances Sunday, he came through in a big way with his game-ending, bases-loaded sharp single to left field.
“I’m gotten some good pitches to hit,” he said. “I’m just trying to hit some balls hard, put them in play, challenge the defense, get on base for the team and let our big guys hit balls over the fence.”
He certainly has not been perfect behind the plate. He has been credited with four passes balls and missed a few more he could have stopped.
Montalbano did not allow any passed balls in 11 starts.
If Gozzo shores up that part of his game, Tulane will be functional behind the plate.
“I would like to see his demeanor stay like it is in the first or second inning when there’s not a lot of pressure and base runners,” Jewett said. “The game starts speeding up a little bit on him, but that’s part of being a freshman. I’m proud of Paul. He’s doing a good job.”
Freshman Chase Solesky (0-0, 1.74 ERA) will make his fourth midweek start for Tulane against McNeese State’s Grant Ashcroft (0-0, 3.12), a former backup quarterback who is starting for the first time in his career. … McNeese State has won 11 of it past 12, including a 5-4 victory against LSU in Lake Charles. … Tulane is 30-12 against McNeese, with the last meeting a 3-2 victory in 10 innings in 2014.