After falling behind 0-2 against one of the nation’s strikeout leaders, freshman Sal Gozzo fouled off three straight pitches with the bases loaded in the sixth inning of a tie game.
His tenacity earned the streaking Tulane baseball team a pair of runs, yet another series victory and a tie for first place in the American Athletic Conference.
Connecticut’s Wills Montgomery balked in the go-ahead run, starting his move to the plate before stopping. Gozzo then hit a bouncer to first base that scored Hunter Williams, and the Green Wave beat the Huskies 3-1 on Friday night at Turchin Stadium.
Nine games under .500 a month ago, Tulane (17-18, 6-2) pulled even with Connecticut (19-13, 6-2) at the top of the conference standings in front of a boisterous crowd of 1,987 and can get back to the .500 mark for the first time since opening weekend by winning Saturday.
“There’s been no give-in, and there’s been no give-up,” first-year coach Travis Jewett said. “We’ve all just stayed together. We said this is not who we are, we had a thought about what we want to be and that’s exactly what we’ve done.”
Gozzo’s at-bat represented Tulane’s improvement in microcosm. Montgomery (4-2), who had struck out 14 against Stetson and 13 against Texas, blew the ball by nine hitters in the first four innings Friday. His 10th strikeout came against Hunter Hope right after the Wave loaded the bases with no outs, sending Gozzo to the plate.
“He made some pretty good pitches on me, and I was able to fight them off,” Gozzo said. “Luckily I was able to put it where they couldn’t do anything with it, so it worked out.”
Earlier in the year, Tulane came up empty repeatedly in similar situations, but Gozzo refused to give in.
“That kid (Montgomery) had a heck of an arm,” Jewett said. “Sal battled, he fought and just the ability just touch the ball is going to win those situations.”
Tulane ace Corey Merrill (5-2) matched Montgomery pitch for pitch, keeping the ball low to get 11 groundouts in the first six innings. He left after seven, limiting Connecticut to three hits and one run.
“I definitely had all of my pitches working on both sides of the plate,” Merrill said. “That was huge. You want to live in the bottom of the strike zone and have them beat the ball into the ground.”
Tulane never really solved Montgomery, but the Wave found a way to win. Hunter Hope scored the first run in the fourth, stealing his first base of the year with two outs and scoring on Gozzo’s double.
Cleanup hitter Jarret DeHart bunted past Montgomery for a single in a sacrifice situation in the sixth, setting up Gozzo again.
“I could act like I bunted it that hard on purpose, but I definitely didn’t,” said DeHart, who had three hits. “I’ll take the free hit.”
Tulane, which has won the first two games of all three AAC series, will go for its first sweep of the season behind normal Saturday starter J.P. France.