For Tulane coach David Pierce, the first inning of Saturday’s game against Connecticut felt eerily familiar.
One night after surrendering pair of runs in the opening frame and never recovering in a shutout loss to Connecticut, Green Wave starter Emerson Gibbs found himself in a similar jam to open the second game of the series, allowing consecutive singles in the first inning Saturday at Turchin Stadium.
But this time, Tulane turned the adversity into a springboard toward success when catcher Jake Rogers picked off a runner at second base, setting up an inning-ending strikeout and setting the table for the Green Wave’s 5-1 victory at Turchin Stadium.
“I thought it was a bad throw and he just threw it over my head by accident, to be honest,” Gibbs said of Rogers’ pickoff. “Then I turn around and we had the out. I just never know when he’s going to do that. It helps so much when your defense is playing like that behind you and around you.
“Jake Rogers may be the best catcher in the country. He makes everyone on our staff so much better.”
Tulane (18-9, 1-1 American) largely cruised from there.
The Huskies (16-9, 1-1) rarely threatened again after Rogers’ heads-up throw, allowing Gibbs to settle in and rack up eight shutout innings, scattering five hits and two walks around six strikeouts in 123 pitches. It improved Gibbs’ ERA to 1.62 after he started the season in a middle relief role.
In six home appearances (including three starts), Gibbs has allowed just one run in 30 innings pitched.
“The game started the same way (as Friday), with two hits and nobody out,” Pierce said. “(Gibbs) just made the pitches. We gave him all day, and he was cool and in control. He was very poised and just did a great job of making pitches when he had to.
“The best thing that he did today is, he just threw the fastball down and away. That’s something we talked about early that he needed to be able to establish. He’s throwing a great curveball and he can dollop the changeup. He’s throwing strikes and attacking on both sides of the plate.”
The Green Wave also provided him with some rare breathing room.
Stephen Alemais carried the momentum of the first-inning escape into the bottom of the frame, lacing a leadoff double down the left-field line. He came around to score on Hunter Hope’s bloop double two hitters later.
“It was a big key to the game to get that early run,” Alemais said. “I think it’s a big part of my job as a leadoff hitter to get on base and get into scoring position and just score.”
That lead ballooned in the fourth inning, after Connecticut provided Tulane with an offensive spark thanks to an off-target throw, which allowed Hunter Williams to reach and prompted a prolonged argument from the Connecticut dugout.
From there, Tulane rallied for four unearned runs.
Lex Kaplan laced a single into right field, and Garrett Deschamp knocked a two-out single to score Williams. Following Rogers’ walk, Pierce opted to utilize his bench, turning to Tyler Wilson in a pinch-hit role with the bases loaded.
Wilson justified the decision by punching a two-run single through the middle and staking Tulane to its largest lead in six games. It was Wilson’s seventh pinch-hit at-bat of the season and his fourth hit in those opportunities.
“Our team is coordinated based on situations and utilizing our personnel as best we can,” Pierce said. “I wouldn’t call it urgency; I just thought it was the right situation (to use Wilson).”
An Alemais infield single pushed the advantage to 5-0, and the Green Wave’s lead was never again in doubt — even when it lost an opportunity to notch its seventh shutout of the year. Reliever Dan Rankin surrendered a ninth-inning two-out homer to Blake Davey before closing the game.
The Green Wave turns to a rubber game at noon Sunday with a chance to exit the weekend in the top half of the AAC standings. Pierce will have a fully rested bullpen at his disposal behind starter Tim Yandel (2-1, 2.43 ERA), including closer Ian Gibaut, who hasn’t thrown at all this weekend.
“Anytime you have an opportunity to win the series and to win the first series in conference — we only have 24 games and every game is critical,” Pierce said. “(Sunday) is a big ballgame for us. We’ll give Tim the ball and he’ll be ready to go.”