David Pierce doesn’t concern himself with labels.
Sure, Tulane reliever Ian Gibaut is referred to as a closer, and starter Corey Merrill is known as the team’s ace. But when urgency called Tuesday night, Tulane’s coach wasn’t afraid to use his best arm, regardless of the time.
And maybe the Green Wave’s most important hitter of the season came off the bench in the 10th inning.
Tyler Wilson blasted a two-run, pinch-hit homer in the 10th to defeat Southeastern Louisiana 5-4 in Turchin Stadium, setting off a celebration that resulted in Tulane players strewn all over the diamond with arms raised and voices pitched. It was his second walk-off of the season, joining his game-winner from February.
He’s now 5-of-9 as a pinch hitter this season.
“I was in shock, really,” Wilson said moments after getting pounced on by his teammates. “It was the first shaving cream pie of my life.”
Trailing 4-3, Stephen Alemais singled to start the threat and stole second to reach scoring position. Then Wilson came up to pinch hit for Nico Symington with the Green Wave down to an out.
And Wilson took full advantage, blasting a 1-2 pitch deep into left field, clearing the net beyond the fence, and setting up an eruption in the home dugout as Tulane (28-16) watched the game swing from likely victory, to gut-wrenching defeat, to a downright exhilarating win.
“We said it coming into the game that we had 11 games left, and we knew all 11 of them would be a dogfight,” Pierce said. “We know it, and we were ready for it. They played really well, and they’re a very good team. We were just fortunate enough to win.”
Wilson’s heroics overshadowed the pitching gambles, which paid off once but not twice.
Gibaut and Merrill walked into the heart of Southeastern Louisiana rallies. Gibaut in the fifth and Merrill in the ninth. Gibaut stuck a dagger in the first, but Merrill fell short in the second. Merrill surrendered a game-tying single to pinch hitter Webb Bobo, erasing Tulane’s 3-1 lead and sending the game into extra innings.
From there, the Lions (33-13) pounced, scoring the go-ahead run on a passed ball in the 10th inning.
Jacob Seward was hit by Tim Yandel’s pitch to start the inning, then moved to third on Carson Crites’ single up the middle. Seward then scored on the misplay behind the plate, pushing the Lions in front for the first time.
But Tulane second baseman Jake Willsey nailed a pair of runners at the plate on consecutive at-bats to end the threat and keep the deficit to just one run.
“It was just a great ballgame of defense and pitching and timely hitting from both teams,” Pierce said. “It was a great lift for us, and we’ve playing well.”
It pushed Tulane’s winning streak to four games and marked its first sweep over the Lions since 2012.
Southeastern failed to capitalize on its final opportunity to score an RPI-boosting win. Despite leading the Southland Conference with a 17-4 league record, seven of Southeastern’s next 10 opponents are among the 50 lowest-rated teams in the country. Earning a win over No. 44 Tulane would have been a critical score heading into the stretch run.
Less than two weeks ago, the Green Wave sat in last place in the American Athletic Conference and had lost four consecutive series. Now, Tulane is talking about its chances to snap a six-year postseason drought and is just a game out of first place in the league (behind a four-way tie at the top of the standings) as it prepares to host Houston this weekend.
So Tuesday’s game was a significant one.
And a tight one.
After Gibaut wiggled his way out of the hairy fifth, reliever Daniel Rankin carried a 3-1 lead into the ninth thanks to a pair of run-scoring hits by Lex Kaplan and an RBI single by Garrett Deschamp.
But Southeastern didn’t allow Tualne to pull away, turning to closer Mac Sceroler late in the game as Tulane tried to tack on insurance runs.
But when push came to shove, it was Wilson’s pinch hit in the 10th inning that proved to be the maneuver that provided the difference between pain and joy.
“He’s as good as anybody in the country at (pinch hitting),” Pierce said. “He’s relaxed. He’s comfortable. I told him to just go up there and try to get a pitch and don’t try to do too much.”
He did more than enough.