Given another shot at UNC-Wilmington after a nine-run loss Friday, Tulane got the same result.
The Green Wave did almost nothing right against the white-hot Seahawks in a rain-delayed Sunday elimination game at the NCAA tournament’s Baton Rouge regional, losing 8-2 at Alex Box Stadium for a desultory end to a bounce-back season under first-year coach David Pierce.
Tulane (35-25), making its first postseason appearance since 2008, failed to get a crack at top-ranked LSU, which will play UNC-Wilmington (41-17) in the championship round at noon Monday. The Seahawks, who lost to LSU 2-0 on Saturday after beating Tulane 10-1 on Friday, won for the eighth time in their past nine games.
This one was a mismatch in every department. UNC-Wilmington, which entered the regional ranked among the nation’s top 12 in scoring and batting average, chased Tulane starter Alex Massey with six runs on six hits in the third inning.
“People say if you get beat, you’d rather it be a blowout, but I’d rather it be a ball game,” Pierce said. “The one big inning kind of deflated the entire game. We didn’t play cleanly throughout the game, especially the third inning. We did a great job getting to where we came this year and have this experience to build on.”
The outburst started when makeshift first baseman Tyler Wilson let a grounder bounce off his glove and skip into foul territory down the right-field line for a two-base error. Wilson, the Wave’s normal third baseman, was playing first because of an infield shift as second baseman Jake Willsey served the final game of a four-game suspension for bumping an umpire in the American Athletic Conference tournament.
Massey then was slow to field a slow roller in front of the mound from UNCW’s speedy Zach Shields, allowing him to beat it out for an infield hit.
The rest of the Seahawks’ hits were line shots as Massey (6-4) gave up his most runs in an inning and a game this season.
“I was throwing all three pitches for strikes, but I just kind of hit a wall there in the third inning,” he said. “I was still making quality pitches, but they were just putting a barrel on them and finding holes.”
The Seahawks left Pierce impressed.
“Wilmington really played well the two games we played them, and they played well against LSU (on Sunday) night,” Pierce said. “I truly think the best two offensive lineups are playing (Monday) that we faced this year.”
Tulane saw its first sign of trouble in the bottom of the first when leadoff batter and Stephen Alemais pulled up trying to beat out a grounder that glanced off pitcher Nick Monroe’s glove. After getting thrown out, Alemais grabbed his left hamstring, limped back to the dugout and looked gimpy when he returned to shortstop for the start of the second.
Alemais toughed it out for seven innings, but Tulane’s leading hitter and top fielder was less than 100 percent the rest of the way. He went 0-for-3 and was replaced at shortstop by Matt Braud after grounding into a double play in his last at-bat.
“He tweaked his hamstring,” Pierce said. “We tried to push it, but we weren’t going to push it in an eight to nothing game. He wanted to play. I just went to him and told him I was proud of him and everything he did for this team the entire year.”
Braud promptly made a throwing error on the first ball hit to him in the eighth, Tulane’s third miscue of the night.
In what has become a recurring theme the past two weeks, Tulane struggled to score on a pitcher who entered with a series of rough outings. On Friday, the Seahawks’ Ryan Foster pitched his first complete game against the Wave.
This time, UNCW’s Nick Monroe (ERA: 6.75) had given up 29 runs and 40 hits in the past 26.2 inning spanning six starts, winning none of those games.
Monroe (4-3) came within one out of his first complete game of the season, giving up six singles — four of which came with two outs — before leaving with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth.
Pinch hitter Tim Yandel singled in two runs as Tulane averted a shutout.
Tulane put a runner in scoring position in the fourth, fifth and sixth, but Hunter Hope struck out swinging and Lex Kaplan went down looking to end the first two threats. Hope and Jake Rogers flew out to strand runners at second and third in the sixth.
“(Monroe) was keeping the ball down, and he was throwing two of his pitches for strikes,” Kaplan said. “We barreled balls up. We lined out seven, eight times hard, and there was nothing we could do about that.”
With two lopsided losses and one blowout win against Lehigh in the regional, Tulane barely used closer Ian Gibaut. He entered for the first time in the seventh inning and gave up two hits as UNC-Wilmington scored its final run.
The only fun the Wave had came during the 3-hour, 15-minute rain delay that pushed the start back to 6:15 p.m. While waiting it out, several players attached a small basketball hoop to a railing near their dugout and began shooting free throws with a rubber ball.
UNC-Wilmington players soon came out of their dugout to join in, resulting in a high-spirited free-throw competition. Tulane won, celebrating wildly when the final shot went in while a few fans started the Hullabaloo chant that rings out every time the Wave scores.
Tulane, which scored the second-fewest runs in the regular season of any team in the NCAA field of 64, narrowly avoided being shut out for the eighth time this year and the first time in the postseason since losing 5-0 to Texas in the 2005 College World Series.
Still, every player was on the top of the dugout steps and applauding when seldom-used pinch hitter Nico Symington singled in the ninth and Yandel hit his two-run single in his first at-bat since April 2.
Coming off a losing season in 2014 — Tulane’s first in 21 years — they soaked up every moment of playing in a regional.
“It was a great season,” said Kaplan, a sophomore. “From here, I see everything going up.”
Kaplan was vocal about wanting a shot at LSU when the regional pairings were announced. He did not get that opportunity, but he said he had no real regrets.
“There’s always next year,” he said. “We get to play them twice next year, and hopefully we’re right back here playing them again in a regional. That would be awesome.”