Tulane coach David Pierce said he didn’t breathe any easier on Sunday afternoon.
But compared to the tension of the Green Wave’s past four wins, the sweep-clinching 5-3 victory over San Francisco must have felt like a blowout win to most of the 2,617 in attendance at Turchin Stadium.
“It was nice to not have to wait until the end to get some offense,” shortstop Stephen Alemais said. “But we are just finding ways to get it done, and it doesn’t’ matter if it’s the last out or early in the game. Everyone always believes we are going to win, and so far we have.”
Tulane (6-1) used late-inning heroics to win the first three games of the week, pulling ahead in the ninth on Wednesday against Southeastern, then drawing a walk-off walk Friday before hanging on Saturday thanks to a ninth-inning, game-tying home run by Hunter Williams that set up an 11th-inning game-ending wild pitch to seal the series over the Dons (0-8).
On Sunday, Tulane flipped the script, producing most of its offense at the game’s onset rather than its conclusion. Doubles by Alemais and Hunter Hope preceded Williams’ second home run of the weekend, a towering blast to center field that pushed Tulane to its biggest lead of the winning streak.
“I hadn’t seen anyone hit the ball out of center field since I’ve been here,” starting pitcher Tim Yandel said. “Then Hunter Williams did it twice in two days. They aren’t just home runs either, they are absolute missiles.
“He’s really seeing the ball. If you ask him, he’ll tell you he’s getting jammed, but I promise you can’t hit the ball that hard unless you’re really seeing it.”
Williams wasn’t alone.
It was the first of three long balls the Green Wave would launch on Sunday. Center fielder Grant Brown and second baseman Garrett Deschamp hammered line-drive solo shots out to left field in the sixth and eighth innings, respectively, helping provide a cushion into some shaky late innings.
While Yandel dazzled on the mound through the first seven frames — taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning and leaving with just three hits and one run allowed — Tulane’s bullpen left the game in jeopardy. In two innings, Jordan Gross and Eric Steel combined to allow five Dons to reach base and two runs to score. Closer Ian Gibaut was unavailable to due to his heavy workload on Saturday.
But the pair of late home runs ensured the Dons’ late offensive surge wouldn’t be enough. Considering homers were almost entirely absent from the Green Wave’s arsenal a year ago, their emergence has added a noticeable spark to Tulane’s attack.
In seven games, Tulane has bashed seven home runs. In 2014, the Green Wave hit just 10 in 52 games, despite employing nearly the exact same starting lineup.
Alemais credited the surge to experience, noting that Tulane’s confidence in attacking fastballs as sophomores has taken a noticeable uptick from playing as more timid freshmen. Eight of Tulane’s starters on Sunday are in their second year with the program.
“I think one; they’re stronger,” Pierce said. “Two, they’ve got experience. Three, coach (Sean) Allen and (Philip) Miller have done a great job of just clearing their minds and letting their talent take over, because they are talented.”
Where that talent goes is yet to be seen. Last year, Tulane also jumped out to a 6-1 start before tumbling to a 23-29 record.
It’s why Pierce said he’s not concerned with harnessing momentum or looking at potential votes in the Top 25 polls. With a five-game week beginning on Tuesday night against UNO, there’s no down time to reflect on what the Green Wave has accomplished before the calendar even turns to March.
“Honestly, we just try to grind it every day,” Pierce said. “We don’t back off, but at the same time we’re good to them. So we just stay consistent, and that’s just what we do. We have a long season.”