Tulane’s return to the NCAA tournament was more like a crash back to earth.
The Green Wave skidded early, falling behind in the first inning, before getting smashed by a seven-run fourth inning in UNC-Wilmington’s 10-1 victory at Alex Box Stadium in a game that stretched from late Friday night into Saturday morning.
But the fourth inning likely felt like it lasted longer than two days for the Green Wave (34-24). Considering Tulane hadn’t played in an NCAA tournament game since 2008, it may have felt like an eternity as the game quickly unraveled.
The Seahawks (39-16) saw three pitchers in the inning, collected seven hits against them and pushed a two-run lead out to a 9-0 advantage before the game even reached its midway point. While starting pitcher Patrick Duester was saddled with the loss, no phase of the Green Wave’s roster was blameless.
Tulane nearly escaped the fourth without any damage when Hunter Hope snagged a screaming line drive with the bases loaded for the inning’s second out. But as he rushed to try to turn one out into two, disaster struck.
Hope airmailed his throw to first baseman Tyler Wilson, sending a run home and opening the floodgates. Duester then misplayed a bunt and Jake Rogers allowed a passed ball on what would have been strike three, surrendering another run and leading to Tim Yandel’s entrance.
The Seahawks then pounded out three hits and scored two more runs, forcing Tulane coach David Pierce to turn to Sam Bjorngjeld before Yandel could even post an out.
“If we complete the strikeout there, we give up a run and it’s a 3-0 ballgame after having the bases loaded with no one out,” Pierce said. “We would’ve gotten out of the jam. But we didn’t do that. Before that, I thought Tim threw quality pitches and after that, I didn’t think he did.”
Meanwhile, Tulane’s offense kept setting up for a big inning of its own but couldn’t push past the threshold. Runners reached scoring position in each of the first five innings but could only muster a single run.
Tulane started off 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and found some odd ways to lose ground on the basepaths.
After hitting a triple to start the game, Stephen Alemais got caught in a rundown between third and home following Garrett Deschamp’s sharp grounder to the mound, leading to an out. In the fifth, Richard Carthon tried to advance from second to third on a single but fell flat on his chest between the bases, allowing him to get caught.
It was that kind of night for Tulane.
“The biggest thing to take from tonight is that we can’t let big innings happen like that,” Carthon said. “We had opportunities to actually get out of that inning, and we didn’t capitalize on it. The same goes with getting runners in scoring position and actually getting them in. The biggest thing is more timely hits and more sound defense.”
Ryan Foster, UNCW’s starter, entered with a 4.42 ERA and allowed 48 hits and 28 runs in his previous six outings but repeatedly danced around Green Wave threats in the early innings before dominating down the stretch, finishing a complete game by allowing seven hits and just one earned run.
While Tulane’s offense struggled, its pitching and defense are what got the Green Wave into the postseason and have looked anemic in the past two games, allowing one big inning to knock it out of contention (blowing a four-run lead in an 7-6 loss to UConn while being eliminated from the AAC tournament).
Friday’s loss was just the third time Tulane allowed double-digit runs this season.
Tulane will play the remainder of the regional with its back against the wall from the losers’ bracket. It starts Saturday at 3 p.m. when the third-seeded Green Wave lock up with No. 4 seed Lehigh, which dropped a 10-3 contest to LSU to open Friday’s regional.
“Now it’s win or go home,” Carthon said. “The stakes are the highest they’ve been all year. We realized that if we lose we go home, so tonight is over regardless of how things turned out. Tomorrow is a brand new day, and we just have to buy in and fight for it another day.”