HOUSTON — Just when Tulane’s baseball season looked its bleakest, along came Alex Massey.
The redshirt junior pitcher, who earlier this season was jettisoned from the weekend rotation, highlighted his return to a starting role by tossing a two-hitter, leading Tulane to a 3-1 victory over Houston on Sunday afternoon at Cougar Field.
His performance helped the Green Wave (22-15, 3-6 American) salvage the final game of the weekend series after dropping consecutive contests to Houston (23-13, 4-5). However, Tulane remains in sole possession of last place in the American Athletic Conference standings as it enters the midway point of the league schedule next week.
“You really have to avoid that sweep,” Pierce said. “It was a big game for us to just stay within reach. That’s the key. It was a good RPI game, and we have a tough league. And we understand all of that, but our intent is to just keep grinding it out.”
More importantly to the Green Wave on Sunday, it received the type of pitching Tulane’s staff and Massey himself believed they were capable of. The former Catholic High-Baton Rouge standout opened the year as the team’s No. 2 starter but lost the gig when his ERA grew to 4.91 during the season’s first month.
He climbed back into the rotation last week thanks to five long relief appearances that yielded just three earned runs. Then, after pitching well enough to beat East Carolina on April 4, he rose to another level Sunday.
“That is as good of a pitching performance as we have seen all year,” Tulane coach David Pierce said. “The thing that is so great about it is that the kid has tremendous character and work habits. And when the team needed it, he really gave us a boost. I’m just really proud, and my hat goes off to him.”
With the exception of Connor Wong’s two-out, solo homer in the seventh, the Cougars didnot move a runner past first base. Massey logged five strikeouts, and Pierce said his starter was as strong in the ninth inning as he was at the game’s onset, throwing 113 total pitches.
Catcher Jake Rogers and shortstop Stephen Alemais both said it’s the best they’ve seen Massey pitch. They said his strong outing was precisely what the Green Wave needed to bounce back after losing its fourth consecutive weekend series.
“There are ups and downs throughout the season, but you keep working no matter what. And eventually, these days will come,” Massey said. “You just try to remember what they feel like and repeat what you did.
“I just had control of all of my pitches, with the exception of losing my slider in the middle of the game. Other than that, almost the whole game, I could throw anything for strikes or a chase pitch.”
He also credited Tulane’s early offensive surge for settling him into the game.
Three consecutive first-inning walks set up Hunter Hope’s two-run double into the right-center field gap, which dropped just in front of the outstretched arm of Houston’s Kyle Survance, earning Tulane a 2-0 lead.
It helped bounce Houston starter Taylor Cobb from the game after just 2.1 innings, forcing the Cougars to use three arms from the bullpen.
“Hunter has struggled at times, and for him to come up big like that was just great,” Pierce said. “We had great patience at the plate, and that was the key to getting their starter out.”
And as Massey cruised through Cougars’ hitters, Tulane added to the advantage in the seventh when Richard Carthon ripped a single into left field, scoring Jake Willsey, who capitalized on Rogers’ well-executed sacrifice bunt the previous at-bat.
It helped Massey complete the victory and send Tulane into the week with a modicum of momentum after another losing weekend.
“When you can minimize those losses and get yourself back up and ready to play on a Sunday on the road, it shows that this team is still fighting,” Pierce said. “That’s what they did today, and we need to keep it up.”