Despite earning its first Southland Conference regular season title, the Southeastern Louisiana baseball team was left out of the NCAA tournament in 2015 because it had almost no marquee wins.
It is too early to tell what will happen this season, but the Lions are taking care of the quality-victory part.
Drew Avans’ leadoff double in the eight inning started a four-run rally as Southeastern batted around and completed a home-and-home sweep of the Green Wave in a battle of streaking teams, winning 7-6 on Tuesday night at Turchin Stadium. Combined with victories against top-15 RPI teams South Alabama and Southern Miss, the Lions have put themselves in much better shape for an at-large bid if they fail to win the Southland Conference tournament.
Southeastern (23-7) won for the 17th time in 18 games despite getting zero hits from white-hot first baseman Jameson Fisher, who entered with a nation’s best .521 batting average. Avans had four hits, including a triple and a double.
The Lions, who lost all three meetings with Tulane a year ago, celebrated with chest bumps, then began jumping up and down after their post-game meeting in the outfield.
“Everybody’s put the aura around this series that (the losses) are the reason we didn’t get in (an NCAA regional) last year,” Southeastern coach Matt Riser said. “Both clubs knew that going into it and treated this like a Friday night in conference. I don’t know if either team had a member on the bench left, trying to pull out all the stops.”
Tulane (19-9) had its 11-game home-winning streak snapped and lost for only the second time in 15 chances at Turchin Stadium. The Wave committed three errors and had two runners picked off the base paths. Speedy Richard Carthon also grounded into his first double play of the year on a disputed call at first, and catcher Jake Rogers made his first error of the season, airmailing a ball into center field.
“That (the mistakes) was the bottom line in the game,” Tulane coach David Pierce said. “We should’ve won you just base it on offense. But I’m not taking anything away from Matt [Riser] and that team. They played smart, they played hard and they deserved to win tonight.”
The Wave took its only lead with three runs in the seventh to go ahead 5-3, but the Lions responded immediately.
Tulane reliever Trevor Simms replaced Dan Rankin after Avans’ double but had little success and one bad break. He plunked the first batter he faced before first baseman Grant Witherspoon fielded a bunt attempt by Taylor Schwaner, looked to third, then wheeled around and threw wildly to first on a play Schwaner would have beaten out after his initial indecision.
Brennan Braud followed with a tying single. The Lions went ahead on a sacrifice fly by Fisher that left fielder Jarret DeHart caught in foul territory. Webb Bobo’s then padded the advantage with a single to make the score 7-5, a run Southeastern Louisiana would need.
“We stayed resilient,” Riser said. “We’ve done it too many times coming back from down late to win games.”
Tulane started the bottom of the ninth with straight singles off of ace reliever Kade Granier, who allowed his first run in 17 innings this year. But catcher Chris Eades caught Witherspoon in a rundown between first and second, forcing Jake Rogers to break for third and get tagged out.
Granier settled down to get a fly to left from Lex Kaplan and struck out Hunter Hope to end the game.
“He (Witherspoon) thought the ball was bunted, so he got overextended,” Pierce said. “They back-picked him.”
Witherspoon, the reigning American Athletic Conference Player of the Week, had three more hits. Designated hitter Jeremy Montalbano also had three hits, but his status is up the air after he injured himself pitching in the top of the ninth inning.
“We’re not sure what happened there yet,” Pierce said.
Montalbano capped a three-run seventh by drilling a two-RBI triple over the head of center fielder Jacob Steward, but he was stranded at third when Kaplan and Hope struck out.
A pair of streaking teams slowed to a snail’s pace in a game that lasted three hours and 42 minutes, featured 13 pitchers (eight from Tulane) and included a combined seven walks in the seventh inning.
After struggling for five innings against Southeastern starter Pat Cashman, Tulane scored twice in the sixth to tie it at 2 thanks to a leadoff triple from Witherspoon and a double by Montalbano that chased Cashman.
Tulane pitcher J.P. France was in trouble three batters into the game.
After an error and a single put Southeastern runners on first and second, Fisher came to the plate with no outs in the top of the first inning. No one anywhere has been hotter than Fisher, who sported an eye-popping .607 in his last 16 games.
France cooled him down, getting a hard fly ball right to left fielder Jarret DeHart. The Wave got out of the inning unscathed, and Fisher finished 0 for 3 with two intentional walks.
No matter. The rest of the Lions picked up the slack, getting seven hits off LaFrance in 4.1 innings and hitting Rankin and Simms hard, too.
“If you look at it, it was a true heavyweight bout,” Southeastern coach Matt Riser said. “We just kept throwing punch for punch. At the end of the day you have two quality ball clubs and somebody’s going to have to lose. Fortunately for us we were on the good side of things.”
Derrick Mount (1-0), Southeastern’s fourth pitcher, took the victory. Simms (4-1) took the loss for Tulane, allowing three runs in 0.2 innings.