Freshman Chase Solesky regained his early season form on Sunday in a relief stint against Houston.
For the pitching-starved Tulane baseball team, developments like that will be far more significant than the results of the games in its final American Athletic Conference series at Memphis (28-25, 7-14). The Green Wave (25-28, 11-10) can’t repeat as regular-season champions, but it can determine which arms to rely on when it tries to win the AAC tournament the following week.
From the start of league play, the reality has been Corey Merrill, J.P. France and taking a chance on any other pitcher getting anyone out until closer Christian Colletti is ready.
Tulane’s ERA has ballooned to an unsightly 5.63, challenging 2010’s 5.66 for the second worst in school history.
Solesky finally stepped up Sunday, limiting Houston to four hits and one run in four innings after replacing Sam Bjorngjeld at the start of the fifth inning in Tulane’s 11-4 victory.
“I feel very important for this team,” Solesky said. “I threw a lot the last couple of weeks, and I could feel progress. That's all I can ask for and all I can do for this team.”
Solesky was terrific as a midweek starter at the beginning of the year, allowing five earned runs in 24.2 innings against Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Miss, San Diego, McNeese State and LSU. Promoted to Sunday starter for the conference-opening series against South Florida, he yielded seven runs in four innings of a 7-5 loss.
From there, he struggled, losing his spot after a rough outing at Cincinnati the following Sunday and continuing to get touched up as a reliever. Before pitching against Houston, he had allowed 23 hits in his last 14.2 innings.
"I needed to learn,” he said. “The competition I had been playing against was good, but when you come in against conference, it's a different ballgame. Maybe you start trying a little harder. I've been going in and getting better day by day, learning from Corey and J.P.”
Solesky (4-2, 4.05) will start Friday for the first time since April 9. France (5-4, 3.68), by far Tulane’s most consistent pitcher in conference play, will go Thursday. Bjorngjeld (3-4, 5.84) will start Saturday, with Merrill sitting out the series to get fresh for the tournament, which begins next Tuesday in Clearwater, Florida.
The Wave went 4-3 behind Merrill and France in league action but 2-5 when anyone else started, allowing 53 runs. A revived Solesky, who grew up three hours from Clearwater in Fort Pierce, Florida, would be pivotal to an extended tournament run.
“It (the Houston performance) was really important for his confidence,” coach Travis Jewett said. “For him to make some pitches with guys on and minimize the opportunities they had and keep the score spread out was big.”
Regardless of what happens in Memphis, Tulane likely will play in the Clearwater opener at 2 p.m. Tuesday as the fourth or fifth seed. With the short layoff between the Memphis series and then, don’t look for any high pitch counts.
This week is all about finding the right pitchers for the tournament, which Tulane has to win to reach an NCAA regional. Freshman Keagan Gillies, from Brother Martin, made a nice impression against UNO on Tuesday with three no-hit innings as a starter.
“We’ve been thinking about this map that’s ahead of us,” Jewett said. “We have to try to set it up. Hopefully when we get Merrill and France back on full to plus, plus rest heading into that thing, we’ll get some pitching combined with good hitting. It’s a good equation for winning baseball.”