It won’t make up for a frustrating start to May, but Senior Day went exactly the way the Tulane baseball team wanted.
Introduced separately in between innings to maximum effect, a large class of decorated departing players took turns jumping all over Houston’s pitching. Everyone got into the act on a feel-good Sunday as the Green Wave salvaged the finale of a weekend series, winning 11-4 at Turchin Stadium.
When Jarret DeHart launched a hanging slider over the screen in right field for a three-run home run in the fourth inning, the fourth-year players batting 1 through 7 were a collective 9 for 13 with eight runs and eight RBIs. Jeremy Montalbano joined the party with an RBI single in the eighth — his first run-producer since fracturing his ankle on March 5.
This, after Tulane (24-28, 11-10 American Athletic Conference) gave up 14 runs in the last two innings of a 15-3 loss Friday and was shut out 4-0 on Saturday, completing a free fall from the top of the standings to fifth place.
“Today was awesome,” DeHart said. “It’s tough losing. We know we’re better than that, but the way they honored the seniors was phenomenal. I had a great time, and I know everyone did.”
Just about all of the seniors have been heavy contributors throughout their career, and they showed why against Houston (33-18, 13-8), which was trying to become the sole leader in the AAC. The Cougars settled for a tie with South Florida and Central Florida entering the final weekend.
DeHart went 4 for 5 with three runs and four RBIs. Fellow senior Hunter Williams was a perfect 4 of 4 with a walk, scoring four times. Throw in Lex Kaplan (two runs), Grant Brown (two RBIs), Hunter Hope (two-run homer, three RBIs) and second baseman Jake Willsey, who had two hits and a sensational diving stab to save a run in the eighth.
Tulane entered the season hoping to defend its first regular-season conference title in 11 years and expecting to reach a regional for the third consecutive year. The Wave ran into plenty of potholes along the way under new coach Travis Jewett, but he hit his own home run by introducing the departing players one-on-one throughout the game rather than as a group in a pre-game ceremony before most fans had arrived.
“You couldn’t script it any better,” Williams said. “That was perfect. The ceremony, it was something I’ve never seen before, and it was awesome acknowledging people during the game.”
With sophomore Grant Witherspoon sitting out for the first time this season in favor of the seniors, the first four batters reached base for the pumped-up Wave, setting the tone.
“I wanted to make sure the glorification of the seniors was present,” Jewett said. “And for them to have the production they had was the cherry on top.”
The long-term ramifications remain to be seen, but at the minimum Tulane stopped the rot after losing nine of its previous 12. The Wave still has not been swept in three years of AAC play and won for only the second time in 12 Sundays.
Tulane will try to build on it and peak for the AAC tournament, which starts May 23 in Clearwater, Florida. A championship there is the team’s only avenue to a third straight regional appearance.
“We started playing the way we should have been playing this whole last stretch,” Williams said. “That’s what we were doing in the middle of the year when we were so hot. Guys were swinging the bats well and swinging at good pitches. Playing like this, it might be something to start the ball rolling and get us playing our best baseball at the right time.”
Freshman Chase Solesky (4-2) earned the win with four innings of solid relief of Sam Bjorngjeld.