Tulane started its seven-game winning streak with a flair for the dramatic.
Three consecutive late-inning comebacks sparked the Green Wave, but that magic was nowhere to be found on Saturday evening, when Creighton pulled ahead early and stayed there in a 7-2 victory at Turchin Stadium.
A night after being shut down by Tulane ace Corey Merrill in the Green Wave’s 8-2 series-opening win, the Blue Jays took full advantage of a shaky start by Alex Massey.
Five hits generated four runs as the Blue Jays pounced at the game’s onset. With the exception of an error by Stephen Alemais that led to a fielder’s choice, the first seven Creighton batters reached base, including RBI shots by Ryan Fitzgerald, Brett Murray and Luke Horanski.
The four-run inning came as a trend-reversal from the Green Wave’s previous starting pitching performances, which combined to allow just eight earned runs in the first 10 games.
Tulane (9-2) answered back quickly, scoring a run in the bottom of the first when Hunter Williams’ single to left field drove Stephen Alemais home, cutting the lead to 4-1. But that was as much as Tulane would muster against Creighton starter Matt Warren.
The preseason Big East Pitcher of the Year retired 14 straight hitters after the run scored, keeping Tulane from creeping within striking distance. Warren didn’t record a strikeout and threw just 67 pitches, tossing six innings and allowing three hits.
“We just dropped our guard tonight,” Tulane sophomore Lex Kaplan said. “It’s going to happen. It’s baseball. We just need to come back tomorrow and play hard and play like we have been.”
While Creighton (4-2) held control of the game, tensions flared in the third inning. Tulane first baseman Hunter Williams shoved baserunner Harrison Crawford after Tulane coach David Pierce said Crawford stepped on Williams’ foot for the second time in the game. The push incited the Blue Jays’ dugout to clear out, followed by the Green Wave’s dugout emptying, resulting in a heated screaming match between the two teams.
After a prolonged argument, the two coaches met at the plate, and it was decided no one would be ejected, despite an initial call for Williams to leave the game.
“The thing I was impressed with is we took up for taking up for one of our players, but we did it the right way,” Pierce said. “No punches were thrown. The point was made, and now we move forward.”
Things didn’t improve much for Tulane following the scuffle.
The Green Wave assisted in Creighton extending the lead and busting the game open in the sixth. Massey loaded the bases on a pair of walks and a fielding error, prompting Tulane to call upon reliever Jordan Gross.
Just when it appeared Tulane might escape, Kelvin Lamb bounced a ground ball to a charging Alemais at shortstop. But Alemais bobbled his attempt to throw to the plate and tried to recover by throwing to first. But the throw launched into the dugout, allowing two runs to score.
Gross walked two more hitters, capping the Blue Jays’ three-run inning without the benefit of a hit.
“It kind just of collapsed on us all at once,” Pierce said.
Adding to the struggles was an injury to center fielder Grant Brown, who separated his shoulder in the fourth inning diving for blooping line drive. He left the game following the play, but Pierce said the injury isn’t severe and expects Brown to only miss a week of action.
Tulane pieced together some offense in the late innings, getting two runners to reach base in the sixth and eighth but came up scoreless both times. Only Kaplan, who had a leadoff triple in the seventh, came around to score following Jake Rogers’ groundout.
The series will be decided on Sunday, with the finale starting at 1 p.m. as Tim Yandel (1-0, 0.68 ERA) tries to win the Green Wave’s third consecutive series and possibly push the program into the Top 25 for the first time since 2011.
Pierce called a brief but atypical postgame meeting with his team in the clubhouse following the game, in the hopes of “getting them centered” before the team’s first rubber game of his tenure.
“He said, ‘Let’s go out tomorrow and win,’ and that was it,” Kaplan said. “That’s what we’re going to do.”