One inning is all it took.
It wasn’t a monumental offensive display or even a memorable string of hits like Tulane’s baseball team has succumbed to at times this season. Rather, it took Southern Miss just four hits and three runs in the third inning to set itself up for a series-opening 4-2 win over the Green Wave at Turchin Stadium.
It marked Tulane’s seventh consecutive loss in Conference USA play, keeping the Green Wave from gaining back any of the four games it trails for the No. 8 and final spot in the league tournament later this month.
On the heels of its best week since February (winning a series over Wichita State last weekend before beating Nicholls State on Tuesday), the Green Wave’s familiar shortcomings reappeared Friday night.
Southern Miss took advantage of its brief offensive break by posting three runs in the third inning, thanks to bunching its four hits over five at-bats. Singles to right field by Nick Dawson, Connor Barron and Michael Sterling drove home the first run of the game.
Following Tim Lynch’s RBI groundout to second base, Matt Durst laced a double down the left field line for a two-out RBI, extending USM’s lead to 3-0.
“I made a couple of mistakes with two strikes,” Tulane starter Corey Merrill said. “I didn’t put them down in the dirt, and they capitalized on it.”
It was the only time the Golden Eagles got to Merrill. The freshman didn’t allow a hit outside of the spree in the third and racked up six strikeouts over seven innings.
After a rough start to the season, the former Lutcher standout has emerged as one of the Green Wave’s most reliable arms, amassing a 2.11 ERA in 21.1 innings while surrendering just a .200 batting average over the past three weeks, working his way into the rotation’s ace position.
But for the third straight game, he received no run support.
Golden Eagles starter Conor Fisk bewildered the Green Wave, tossing 8.1 innings, striking out 11 batters while not allowing a run to score until the eighth. With rare exception, Fisk buried Tulane’s bats, retiring the Green Wave in order six times during the first seven frames.
When Fisk wasn’t rolling through the Tulane order, his defense’s alertness aided him.
The Green Wave pieced together consecutive hits in the third when Jake Rogers singled to right field before Stephen Alemais lined a double over third base. But the rally would be short-lived.
Rogers made a turn toward home, but was held up by director of baseball operations Brian Meyer, who is filling out the on-field coaching staff in head coach Rick Jones’ extended absence. While Rogers heeded the stop sign, he was too casual in stepping back onto third base, allowing USM left fielder Dylan Burdeaux to throw to third baseman Tim Lynch, who was standing behind Rogers to apply the tag.
“He just took too hard of a turn and had his head down,” Tulane interim coach Jake Gautreau said. “He just wasn’t being heads-up and playing smart baseball.”
Three innings later Grant Brown led off the frame with a single into right field, but wasn’t long for the basepaths either. After Fisk’s pitch bounced in front of the plate, Brown darted for second but the ricochet didn’t carry far enough, allowing USM catcher Austin Roussel time to gather the ball and make a flawless throw to second base and record the out.
“Here, what we have been talking about is that all of the little things matter tremendously in a ballgame,” Gautreau said. “You never know what pitch, what play, what out is going to get you beat in the end. Grant was looking to read a breaking ball in the dirt but didn’t get the read he needed to get early enough to take second base.”
“Those things can prevent you from winning ballgames. It’s unfortunate it happened tonight because who knows what could have taken place if we wouldn’t have made those two mistakes on the bases.”
Tulane was able to piece together a run in both the eighth and ninth innings, even forcing USM to pull Fisk for closer Sean Buchholz. But the Green Wave was unable to drive the crucial hit it needed with runners in scoring position, stranding one each time en route to the loss.
Fourth-year junior Randy LeBlanc takes the mound tomorrow for the Green Wave as it tries to stop the skid and stop its free fall in the Conference USA standings.